Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama headed to Tampa to announce $1.25B in rail funds

TAMPA -- President Barack Obama is slated to host a town hall meeting here Thursday, one day after he put jobs at the top of his 2010 agenda in his State of the Union speech.

Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, aren't coming empty-handed to the job-hungry state. They are expected to announce $1.25 billion to help build a high-speed rail system from Orlando to Tampa and, eventually, to Miami. The project is heavily supported by both Democratic and Republican elected officials.

Gov. Charlie Crist is planning to meet Obama on the airport tarmac but will not stand by him at the town hall meeting, as he did one year ago when Obama campaigned in Fort Myers for his $787 billion spending plan. Crist's support for the plan sullied his image with conservative Republicans, who condemn the administration's economic policies.

So this time, with his U.S. Senate campaign flagging, Crist is casting his face time with Obama as an opportunity to set him straight. He said in a written statement on Wednesday: ``I look forward to seeing the president tomorrow to tell him myself the direction I believe our country should move toward, not just in talk but in action: a commitment to lower taxes for families and small businesses; to pay down the deficit and stop out-of-control federal spending; to provide a real solution to the growing unemployment rate; and to, once and for all, put an end to a government-run healthcare plan.''

Appearing on NBC's Today Show, former Gov. Jeb Bush was asked if he would have joined the president as Crist did one year ago.

``I would go when the president comes to the state,'' Bush said. ``I think it's more than appropriate. It's not a sign of support. I wouldn't have necessarily embraced the stimulus plan that did not have support in the state and campaign for it and put Republicans in a vulnerable position.''

Bush also echoed Obama's call for bipartisanship but suggested that the president wasn't practicing what he preached.

``I think that leaders on both sides of the aisle need to figure out where there is common ground and at least focus on that,'' Bush said. ``It's one thing to give a good speech. The other thing is to invite people that don't agree exactly with your point of view to build consensus.''

It's no accident that Obama picked Hillsborough County to reinforce the message from his State of the Union Speech. The political battleground has reflected the must-win state's vote in every presidential election since 1964.

But since Obama carried Florida in 2008, his popularity subsided as the recession lingers. Florida's unemployment rate climbed to 11.8 percent in December.

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