NASHUA -- Promising jobs and asking for patience, President Obama pitched his economic plan to a receptive New Hampshire audience, defending his plan to cut deficits and ease unemployment even as lawmakers back in Washington picked apart his budget blueprint.
“Because there’s no magic wand that will make economic problems that were years in the making disappear overnight, it’s easy for politicians to exploit the anger and anguish folks are feeling right now,'' Obama told a crowd of about 1,600 at a Nashua high school, acknowledging that “folks here in New Hampshire have been tested by the last two years.''
But things could have been much worse, Obama said, if his administration had not gone ahead with the financial bailouts and $787 billion stimulus program so reviled by his Republican opponents. “Because of the steps we took, the markets have stabilized. No one’s worrying about another Great Depression like they were a year ago. The worst of the storm has passed,'' Obama said.
While Obama repeated his calls for bipartisanship, his message had an accusatory undertone toward Republicans, who have succeeded in holding up health care overhaul and many other items on Obama's wish-list.
During a question and answer session, the president almost mockingly welcomed GOP ideas on how to do expand health care coverage to nearly everyone without any costs to consumers or the government. He noted that they voted nearly unanimously against the Recovery Act, and then appeared at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects paid for by that very legislation.
“In other words, they’ve found a way to have their cake and vote against it too,'' Obama said, drawing chuckles and applause from the crowd.
And when Obama proposed a bipartisan commission to find ways to cut the long-term deficit, including by re-examining popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, a handful of Republicans whole were original sponsors of the idea joined in filibustering it, the president said.
"This failed by seven votes, when seven Republicans who had cosponsored the idea suddenly walked away from their own proposal after I endorsed it,'' an exasperated Obama told the crowd. “I said, 'good idea,' I turned around, they're gone. What happened?'' he said. Obama has pledged to create the commission by executive order, but some Republicans have threatened to boycott it, worried that the commission will recommend raising taxes.
“It’s one thing to have an honest difference of opinion on something. There’s nothing wrong with that,'' Obama said, in shirt sleeves and gesturing companionably to the audience “It’s another to walk away from your responsibilities to confront the challenges facing this country because you think it’s good short-term politics. That’s what we can’t afford.''
The president detailed a plan to help expand lending to small business through tax cuts and assistance to community banks. Under the program, $30 billion in returned cash for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) would be made available to help smaller banks lend to local businesses.
“We’re going to start where most new jobs do – with small businesses,'' Obama said. “These are the companies that begin in basements and garages when an entrepreneur takes a chance on his dream, or a worker decides it’s time she became her own boss.''
Back in Washington, Republicans gave the small business initiative a sour reception, saying the returned TARP money should be used to pay down the deficit, estimated to reach a record $1.6 trillion this year and $1.3 trillion next year.
“TARP is not a piggy bank,'' said New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican and one of the chief negotiators of the original TARP law in 2008. “TARP worked as intended during the financial crisis, but the crisis has passed, and the program is no longer needed,'' he said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.