It was cold but sunny in downtown Cleveland Wednesday when President Barack Obama returned to Cleveland after an absence of 16 months. He was there to define proponents of the GOP agenda as out of touch with reality. Check the facts, he said, on one failed prediction after another made by the GOP since his administration started working in 2009.
Ticking off his many accomplishments, from 12 million jobs created and 16.4 million people now being covered by the Affordable Care Act to an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent and 60 straight months of private sector job growth, he wasn’t shy about taking “a little credit” for a booming economy.
“Now, this progress is no accident. First and foremost, it’s the direct result of you, the drive and determination of the American people. But I’m going to take a little credit. It’s also the result of decisions made by my administration, in partnership with some of these members of Congress who are here, to prevent a second depression, and to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity. And a lot of those decisions were controversial. And there was a lot of resistance and obstruction. But we decided to continue to advance,” he said.
The City Club of Cleveland, which normally holds its speaker events in a much smaller downtown venue, moved today’s event to the Global Center for Health Innovation, where approximately 400 guests, not counting media, gathered to hear the 44th President of the United States remind his audience of times were dire when he took over, but have recovered in dramatic fashion even though more work remains. President Obama reminded listeners today that he inherited an economy in free-fall from former President George W. Bush, who left office at a time when 800,000 jobs a month were lost. Since he moved into the White House in January of 2009, on his watch 12 million jobs have been created, and at the fastest rate in decades in spite of Republicans who united across all levels of government to dash his programs.
OhioNewsBureau was on hand with White House press credentials to cover the president’s nearly 80 minute presentation, which included questions from the audience. Gov. John Kasich banned ONB from his media events last summer and denied the news source credentials to cover his last traveling sermon and music-man show, also known as the State of the State Address. The mission of The City Club of Cleveland is to “is to inform, connect, and motivate citizens to take action on issues relevant to our region and beyond,” and Obama delivered on each count. Today, President Obama followed every sitting President since Ronald Reagan who came to the City Club of Cleveland to take questions. “In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen. And the City Club tradition reflects that,” he said.
Among those attending today were Ohio’s senior U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressmen Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur, who accompanied the president on Air Force One from Washington to Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and former Congressman John Boccieri, as well as David Pepper and Nina Turner, who are co-chairing the resurgence of the Ohio Democratic Party despite losing statewide campaigns last year for Attorney General and Secretary of State, respectively, were also on hand for the president’s remarks on pushing middle-class economics.
The auto industry is key to Ohio’s economy, and even though his Republican opponent in 2012 and Ohio’s current governor, John Kasich, would have let auto manufacturers go bankrupt instead of helping them out, as the White House did through the stimulus bill five years ago, the president reminded his Buckeye audience of who had their back when the Great Recession threatened everything in its path. “And today there are more job openings in the United States than at any time since 2001,” President Obama said, adding, “The auto industry that we rescued, despite the fact that it was not popular at the time, is firing on all cylinders. That’s making a difference right here in Ohio.”
Ohio once had the most progressive of renewable energy standards in the nation, but all the work was for naught when Gov. Kasich, capitulating to status quo utility lobbyists, froze standards put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, for two years. Gov. Kasich has chilled Ohio’s solar and wind energy for years to come, even though others are advancing by leaps and bounds, as the president noted. “Every three weeks we produce as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And just last month, the world’s largest solar installation came online in the California desert. The solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.”
Sensible regulation is a GOP pillar of thought, and so it is, too, with the president. “We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis and shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition,” he said. “And today we’ve got the tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts. We’ve got a new consumer watchdog to protect families from predatory lending and credit card practices, saving billions of dollars to American consumers.”
He talked about deficit spending, a big priority for Republicans. “Since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits as a share of our economy by about two-thirds,” he said. He made the case that, by controlling healthcare cost, the long-term deficit projections has also improved. “The Affordable Care Act alone will cut our deficits by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades. The slowing growth in health care costs has saved the Medicare system tens of billions of dollars. Health care was the single biggest factor driving up our projected deficits. It’s now the single biggest factor driving them down.”
The president took pleasure, it seemed, in mocking Republicans for the many catastrophes that his administration would deliver, from jobs killed to exploding deficits to an economy destroyed. “Well, after 12 million new jobs, a stock market that has more than doubled, deficits that have been cut by two-thirds, health care inflation at the lowest rate in nearly 50 years, manufacturing coming back, auto industry coming back, clean energy doubled — I’ve come not only to answer that question, but I want to return to the debate that is central to this country, and the alternative economic theory that’s presented by the other side.” That theory, he said, does not change. “It really doesn’t. It’s a theory that says, if we do little more than just cut taxes for those at the very top, if we strip out regulations and let special interests write their own rules, prosperity trickles down to the rest of us. And I take the opposite view.”
He defined middle-class economics as the product of building “more ladders” for people to get into the middle class if they’re willing to work hard. “We do better when everyone grows together — top, middle, bottom. We do better when everyone has a chance not only to benefit from America’s success, but also to contribute to America’s success. And we know from more recent history that when we stray from that ideal it doesn’t turn out well. We’ve now got evidence there is a better way, there is a better approach. And I’m calling it middle-class economics.”
The alternative history shows doesn’t work, he says, is what happens when so-called “trickle down” economics runs its course. “For the first eight years of this century, before I came into office, we tried trickle-down economics. We slashed taxes for folks at the top, stripped out regulations, didn’t make investments in the things we know we need to grow. At the end of those eight years, we had soaring deficits, record job losses, an economy in crippling recession.”
He talked about education, apprenticeships and on-the-job training as pathways into the middle class. President Obama has proposed making two years of community college as free and universal as high school is today. A manufacturing incubator in Cleveland he visited before arriving at the Global Health Innovation Center, whose products range from airplane parts and medical devices to whiskey, would be wiped out, he said, in the budget proposed yesterday by Republicans in the U.S. House. “If something is working, why would we get rid of it? We should invest in it.”
Spending to keep today’s infrastructure in good shape, and to build the infrastructure of the future, he said, can be done, and in a way that doesn’t add to the deficit. And what’s his responsible recipe? “We just need to cut wasteful loopholes, and ask those at the very top to pay their fair share, and reform our tax code to make our businesses more competitive.”
The most controversial issue he touched on, one many Democrats, progressives and union leaders are opposed to, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty. In 2011. nine Trans-Pacific Partnership countries announced that the TPP intended to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.” Ohio and other former manufacturing Titans lost lots of jobs in the two decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement became law. Ross Perot, a billionaire and independent candidate for president in 1996, said a “giant sucking sound” will be heard if NAFTA is approved. He was right, and many Ohioans were hurt in the process.
In the race for U.S. Senate next year, current office holder Rob Portman is a supporter of TPP, while his Democratic challenger, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, is opposed to it. President Obama said he’s spoken with members of the Ohio delegation on the topic, telling them stronger exports with protections for workers are part of the negotiations. “Here in Ohio, you saw firsthand a lot of past trade deals didn’t always live up to the hype. And that’s why the trade deal I’m negotiating now, the TransPacific Partnership, would reform NAFTA with higher labor standards, higher environmental standards, new tools to hold countries accountable; would focus on the impacts it’s having on American workers, and would make sure that the rules of the 21st century economy in some of the largest markets in the world aren’t written by China. They need to be written by the United States of America, and that’s what this does,” he said.