On the floor of a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio President Obama defended his actions to help save the economy, using the auto plant as an example of the progress being made economically.
Mr. Obama appeared in an area with the second highest unemployment rate in the state – 14.2% in July – which he called “unacceptably high” –– yet came armed with other statistics to show Ohio-specific improvements: 336 police officers jobs were saved in Ohio, 4.5 families in Ohio were given a tax relief, and 570,000 Ohioans extended unemployment benefits thanks to the recovery act.
The president announced a new national standard aimed at both increasing gas mileage an decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in America.
“This action will give our auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability, and predictability. In the past, an agreement like this would have been impossible - but this time was different. Unlikely allies came together - automakers, the UAW, environmental advocates, Democrats and Republicans, California and more than a dozen other states - all of them pledging to set aside the quarrels of the past for the sake of the future.”
Obama said that because of the steps his administration has taken, the plant is “about to shift into higher gear,” – 150 workers came back to work yesterday, and more than 1,000 will be coming back to work in less than three weeks to help with the production of the Chevy Cobalt, which he says, thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program have been boosted up tremendously.
“That program was good for automakers, consumers, and our environment,” Obama said of the Cash for Clunkers programs, “and the Chevy Cobalt that you build here was one of GM's most sought-after cars under that program. Dealers across the country started running out of it and needed you to build more.”
Monday night the one millionth Cobalt rolled off the assembly line, which the president noted during his remarks.
“You're doing your part to move us forward and make sure that the high-quality, well-engineered, safe and fuel-efficient cars of the future will be built where they always have been - right here in Ohio, right here across the Midwest, right here in America.”
Next year, Obama said, the plant will move forward and begin production of the Chevy Cruze – a new car that will get more than 40 miles per gallon.
All this – Mr. Obama argued – is good news for Lordstown, but also an indicator of the national progress economically that, he argues, administration’s efforts have caused. Mr. Obama defended his actions to help get the auto industry back on its feet, even though he claims he doesn’t know much about cars and didn’t want to get involved in the first place.
“I didn't run for president to manage auto companies. It wasn't something on my to-do list. It wasn't even something on my want-to-do list. I like driving cars. Sometimes, you know, I can change a spark plug or change a tire, but I don't know so much about cars that I wanted to be deeply involved in the car industry,” Obama joked. “We intervened for one simple and compelling reason: Your survival and the success of our economy depended on making sure that we got the U.S. auto industry back on its feet.”
It was a tough decision that he had to make, he says – and one, that he celebrated today because the nation has started to reap the benefits.
“Our belief was that if GM retooled and reinvented itself for the 21st century, it would be good for American workers, it would be good for American manufacturing, it would be good for America's economy. And I'm pleased to report that that is exactly what has begun to happen at plants like this, and others across the country. So I know that some of those decisions may not have been popular, but I will tell you what: I will double down on the American people and the American worker and all of you any day of the week.”
Despite progress, the president said that the economic hardships are far from over.
“I don't want to overpromise, here. We've still got a lot of work to do. We got in a deep hole over a course of years. It's going to take some years to get back out of this hole.”
The president briefly touched on the health care reform still hanging in the balance – making the case in front of the union crowd that they’d have a lot more time fighting for better wages if they didn’t have to fight for better health care.
“Think about it. If you're a member of the union right now, you're spending all your time negotiating about health care. You need to be spending some time negotiating about wages. But you can't do it.”
Bringing additional campaign rhetoric back the presidential podium, Mr. Obama said that he’s skinny but tough and will keep on fighting to make Ohio work again.
“I want you to deliver a message to the G.M. team members who are manning the line and couldn't join us today: As long as you've still got an ounce of fight left in you, I'll got a ton of fight left in me. I've said it before: I'm skinny, but I'm tough.”
- Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller