President Obama ventured out of Washington again today to shore up support for his jobs program and ongoing efforts to pass health insurance reform and challenge Republicans and Democrats to work together.
Speaking in front of a crowd of about 1,100 at Nashua, New Hampshire, the President announced a proposal to take $30 billion of the bank bailout money, that's been paid back by Wall Street, and use it to incentivize community banks on Main Street to lend to small businesses.
"The more loans these banks provide to creditworthy small businesses," the President said, "the better a deal we’ll give them on capital from this Fund. Combined with my proposal back in December to continue waiving fees and increasing guarantees for SBA-backed loans, this will help small banks do even more of what our economy needs – ensure that small businesses are once again the engine of job growth in America."
Before the address, the President visited a local business, ARC Energy, an alternative energy company.
Accompanying the President on the trip today, was Karen Mills, the head of the Small Business Administration.
The President told the town hall audience that he "won't rest until businesses are hiring again, and wages are rising again and the Middle Class is thriving again…I'm not ready to cede the future to China or India , or European countries... I’m not willing to settle for second place. Not for the United States of America."
Health care was also front and center today and with just days until the Super Bowl, Obama used an extended football metaphor to drive home his message.
"We're essentially on the five yard line...we've had to go into overtime but we're in the red zone. We gotta punch it through," he said.
But Obama said he needs help. "Democrats can’t do this alone – the President can't do it alone. We’ve got two parties in this country. And that’s a good thing."
And the President set a new deadline for reform - the end of 2010.
"I will not walk away from these efforts. I will not walk away from these people. And I don’t think Congress should either. I think we should keep working to get this done – Democrats and Republicans together. Let's get it done this year!"
And he said, again, that he's open to any good idea when it comes to fixing the country's health care system." You got a better idea, bring it on. But what I will not do is to stop working on this issue because it's the right thing to do for America."
President Obama took about half a dozen questions in the town hall portion of the event, including one from a high school student who asked the President to grade himself on his administration's transparency.
The President said he tries to stay away from grading himself and copped to falling short of his promise to air all the health care debates and meetings on C-SPAN, but he said again that he believes his is the "most transparent administration in the modern era."
In response to a question about how to develop sustainable energy independence, Obama said today that the “controversial” cap and trade mechanism that was approved by the House could be considered separately in the Senate as it develops energy reform legislation.
“We may be able to separate these things out, and it's conceivable that that's where the Senate ends up,” the president said. “But the concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it's the cheaper, more effective kind of energy, is one that is proven to work and is actually a market-based approach.”
He also took a question from an audience member of Haitian descent who asked about America's long term re-development plan for Haiti.
The President said he would work with other partner nations to "determine how can we see if, out of this incredible tragedy, we can start actually rebuilding in a way that makes life even better for people over the long term than it was before the earthquake."
Besides the humanitarian obligation, President Obama said re-building Haiti is in America's national security interests, by bolstering the US image abroad to counterbalance jihadist propaganda. "When they see us devoting these resources and the incredible capacity that we have, to help people in desperate need, that message ripples across the world. And it means that when you've got a guy like bin Laden out there -- screaming, blow up America -- you know, it's a lot harder for that seed to take root."
-Rachel Martin and Karen Travers