Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden traveled to a Chrysler plant in Kokomo, Ind., on Tuesday to tout the resurrection of the American auto industry and make the case for their administration's handling of the economy.
Highlighting the resuscitation of the plant from near-death to full capacity, Obama suggested the factory was a model for the rest of the country, and asserted, "We are moving in the right direction."
But the president warned that progress on other important economic issues, including the Bush tax cuts
, which are to expire at the end of this year, would not be possible unless Democrats and Republicans work together. Pointing to the 3,500 workers in Kokomo who might have otherwise lost their jobs without recovery act investments, Obama said, "This is a reminder of what we can do as Americans when we come together. When we're not divided. When we're not spending all our time bickering, but instead focusing on getting the job done. "
Obama said extending middle class tax cuts was "actually an area where Democrats and Republicans agree," but that the two parties are still apart on tax cuts for upper-income earners -- individuals making over $200,000 per year. An extension of top income cuts will add an estimated $700 billion
to the federal deficit in the next 10 years, and "I don't think we can afford them right now," Obama said, adding he is "eager to sit down with leaders from both parties to hammer this out -- but we need to hammer it out."
For the president, the story of the U.S. auto industry has become a go-to
when in need of evidence that he has taken the right steps to turn around the ailing American economy. While the effects of the recovery act have been met with mixed assessments
, the federal government's decision to bail out GM and Chrysler has been widely hailed as a success. All three U.S car makers have posted solid sales
this year; both GM and Chrysler are well on the road to paying off the loans made to them by U.S. taxpayers. Last week, the president held a special news conference
to tout the initial public offering of GM stock -- one of the largest in U.S. history.
According to the White House, Obama last visited Kokomo in April 2008. Unemployment in the city was more than 20 percent in 2009, giving Kokomo one of the nation's highest unemployment rates. In the interim, the city received $400 million in direct recovery act funding for a range of programs and projects; by September of 2010, unemployment had decreased to 12 percent.
"It's a tough, tough thing when you're out of work," said Obama. "But what's happening here at this plant are signs of hope and confidence in the future -- in our future, together. You're showing us the way forward. You're living up to that spirit of optimism and determination and grit that's always been at the heart of who we are as a people -- at the heart of America."
Heralding an $800 million private industry investment in the plant, the president took the moment to champion American industry. It was, perhaps, Obama's version of an executive thanksgiving in a time of duress -- and a call for the nation to take pride in itself during a period of particularly low morale. "So here's a lesson," he said, "don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity. Don't against the American worker. Don't bet against us."