The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

April 27, 2010

Obama touts health care, regulatory reform in Ottumwa

OTTUMWA — President Barack Obama on Monday sought to bolster both health care and regulatory reform during a historic visit to Ottumwa, saying his administration wants to “restore a sense of security to the middle class.”

“Visits like this remind you that when you get out into the heartland and you talk to folks, there is a lot to learn from rural America,” Obama said to a packed house at the Hellyer Student Life Center on the Indian Hills Community College campus. “It’s towns like this that give America its heartbeat.”

After a warm welcome, Obama received a standing ovation for the passage of health care reform, emphasizing popular angles on the legislation, like putting an end to bans for pre-existing conditions and help for senior citizens. He touted the reform package as the single biggest deficit reduction action since the 1970s, though admitted it will mean larger deficits in the short term.

A similar ovation followed comments on regulatory reform for business. Obama focused on responsibilities, trying to create a connection between obligations met by families and those failed by corporate and political America. He drew distinctions between the behavior of Americans who struggle to pay their debts and behave according to social norms and corporations who don’t bother to try.

“Even before this last crisis it felt like it was slipping away. Folks like you are living up to your responsibilities. People in Washington and Wall Street are not living up to theirs,” he said.

Obama slammed Senate Republicans for blocking debate over regulatory reform. The idea of imposing new regulations on corporate entities is popular and the administration is anxious to take advantage of it in Congressional debates.

The criticism veered toward exasperation at times as Obama drew a distinction between allowing debate on a bill and voting for the bill.

“It’s one thing to oppose reform, but to oppose even talking about reform in front of the American people and having debate, that’s not right,” he said.

The note of frustration returned moments later: “You don’t care which party comes out on top politically. You just want us to live up to our responsibilities like you do,” Obama said.

The scene — Obama with a microphone and rolled-up sleeves, surrounded by a huge crowd — was reminiscent of his caucus campaign in 2007. That was the last time Obama was in Ottumwa, though he has returned to the state as president. The current swing through Iowa, Missouri and Illinois is aimed at restoring momentum after bruising fights on health care and looming fights over regulatory reform and a new nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The economy still looms large for the administration and for its Democratic allies in Congress. The incumbent party generally loses seats in midterm elections and slow economic growth threatens to turn those losses into serious setbacks for the party.

Improvements in the economy, especially job creation, could soften the blow. Obama pointed to green jobs like the ones at the wind turbine plant he visited in Fort Madison earlier in the day. Iowa is a national leader in wind-generated electricity.

The plant at Fort Madison was launched after an earlier manufacturer pulled out. It is, Obama said, an example of a community recovering jobs by aggressively pursuing new opportunities. And it created jobs in the kinds of manufacturing that can shift the nation away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Sustaining those jobs will help the economy and the country, Obama said.

“We’ve got to have middle class workers making middle class wages with middle class benefits. If we can do that we’re going to be successful.”

Obama took a conciliatory tone when asked about immigration, a lightning rod issue for Ottumwa. He criticized a new Arizona law that effectively makes law enforcement into immigration enforcement, but acknowledged a need to secure the borders.

The challenge, he said, is to find ways to secure the country’s borders without shutting off immigration. Obama said immigration renews the country in ways that most parts of the world never see.

“We’re going to have to make them take responsibility. And the way to do that is make them register, make them pay a fine … You make them get at the back of the line, but you also say ‘If you do it the right way you will have a chance at becoming an American citizen,”’ Obama said. “The only way this is going to happen is if Democrats and Republicans come together. It’s a volatile issue.”

Obama said union organization must become easier for workers and called occasional squabbles with organized labor are “disagreements among friends.” But he also repeated a stance that the country’s teachers unions have questioned.

“We need to treat our teachers better. We’ve got to get them better professional development. We’ve got to pay them better,” he said. “In exchange, teachers have to be accountable. I don’t want teachers to be judged just by how their students do on standardized tests ... but there have to be measures so we can see how students do year to year.”

A second stop in Ottumwa was considered but did not take place. That stop was apparently the new Job Corps center currently under construction near the airport.

Obama’s motorcade did not stop at the site, but it did drive by so he could view the ongoing work.

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com

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