ARDEN, N.C -- . President Barack Obama used a bustling engine-parts factory that came back from the dead as the backdrop Wednesday to pitch his plans to boost U.S. manufacturing, part of the second-term agenda he’d rolled out in his State of the Union address the night before.
“There are things we can do right now to accelerate the resurgence of American manufacturing,” Obama told a crowd on the factory floor at Linamar Corp. as he called on Congress to approve $1 billion to create a network of 15 manufacturing “innovation institutes” in hard-hit areas, lower the tax rate for manufacturers to 25 percent from 35 percent and provide help for communities hurt by plant closings.
“I’m doing what I can just through administrative action, but I need Congress to help,” the president said. “I need Congress to do their part. I need Congress to take up these initiatives, because we’ve come too far and we’ve worked too hard to turn back now.”
Obama used the appearance to build popular support for his proposals, many of which Congress has rejected before. It was the first stop on a three-day, three-state swing that also will take him to Georgia to talk about federal help for education and to Chicago to talk about gun control.
The president took a tour of the plant, which makes heavy-duty parts in a once-vacant Volvo auto facility outside Asheville. The Canadian-owned company, which decided in 2011 to open its fourth U.S. manufacturing facility at the site, has hired 160 workers to date and will be up to 200 by the end of the year, Obama said. Jacketless with shirt sleeves rolled up, he mused about North Carolina as a possible post-presidency retirement spot.
His campaign-style swing – standard for presidents of both parties after the State of the Union address – drew criticism from Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky panned Obama’s State of the Union address and dismissed his appearance in North Carolina as a campaign stunt.
“Everyone recognizes the president’s a good campaigner,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We all acknowledge his skill in that area.”
The senator argued that Obama’s speech Tuesday offered a “retread of lip service and liberalism” and that the president had failed to offer a way for the warring parties to resolve looming fiscal challenges.
“We can get important things done in his second term,” McConnell said. “And, if he’s ready to come to the center, we will.”
Congressional Republicans have chafed at Obama’s past efforts to rally public opinion to pressure them from outside, and McConnell said the president must answer the question of whether he’ll lead “or will he continue his endless campaign?”
For now, Obama continues to work the outside angle. Minutes after he finished his Tuesday night address, he urged supporters on a conference call with his political arm, Organizing for Action, to keep pressing for his plan.
“To get it passed, to get it signed, to get it implemented, to get it done – that’s going to require a big push from you guys," the president told supporters on the call.
He’ll travel to Georgia on Thursday, where he’s expected to press his education proposals, which universal pre-kindergarten. He’ll go to Chicago on Friday and is expected to urge action on his administration’s efforts to curb gun violence, after noting in his speech Tuesday that the recent shooting death of a 15-year-old girl took place “just a mile away from my house.”
Obama spent little time on issues beyond manufacturing during his 20-minute remarks Wednesday, but he issued a plea for bipartisanship, saying, “We’ve got to stop with some of the politics that we see in Washington. Sometimes that’s focused on who’s up and who’s down. Let’s just focus on the same kind of common sense and cooperation that we’re seeing at this plant and we see all across the country.”
White House officials didn’t estimate how many factory jobs the president’s proposals would create. But Obama argued that the timing is key, saying it’s becoming more expensive to do business in places such as China.
His proposals include creating more manufacturing-innovation institutes like one the administration started in Youngstown, Ohio, in a former factory that’s now a lab developing 3-D printing.
The administration plans to use its own authority to create three more institutes, but it’s calling on Congress for $1 billion to set up 15 more.
The president also is calling for lowering the overall corporate tax rate to 28 percent and the manufacturing rate to 25 percent, administration officials said. He’d pay for it by cutting the tax break that corporations receive for locating overseas.
“There’s no magic bullet here,” Obama said. “It’s just some common-sense stuff.”