Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama in Florida to test State of the Union opinion

US President Barack Obama is to travel to Florida for a "town hall" meeting that will be the first test of opinion since his State of the Union address.

Mr Obama made job creation the main focus of Wednesday's speech, and will announce $8bn (£5bn) for a national high-speed rail system while in Tampa.

He also said Americans were "hurting" and admitted he had not yet delivered on his election pledge of change.

But Mr Obama defended his healthcare reform efforts and bailout of banks.

Giving the Republican response, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said Democratic policies were resulting in unsustainable levels of debt.

Creating jobs

On Thursday, the day after his first State of the Union address, Mr Obama will fly with Vice-President Joe Biden to Tampa where they will tour MacDill Air Force Base, which has been used for aid flights to Haiti.


There were solid economic measures in this speech, and how they work out will determine the president's popularity more than his words

Read Mark's thoughts in full
After that the two men will attend a town hall-style meeting at the University of Tampa, where they are expected to be questioned about the economy.

Mr Obama will also use the meeting to announce the $8bn in grants for nationwide high-speed rail projects, which the White House says will create or save thousands of jobs in engineering, manufacturing, planning and maintenance.

Except for the line between Boston and Washington, there are no high-speed rail routes in the US. Thirteen rail corridors in 31 states are to receive funds, but only California's plans call for trains with maximum speeds exceeding 200mph (322km/h).

Congress set aside funding for the rail projects, which Mr Obama said in April would "change the way we travel in America", as part of the $787bn economic stimulus package approved in 2009.

In the State of the Union speech Mr Obama called for new spending and tax cuts that he said would build on the stimulus package and easily push the cost of all stimulus measures since he took office to over $1 trillion.

Mr Obama said he had taken office a year ago "amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt".

US unemployment is improving but millions are still looking for work
"The devastation remains," he added. "One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder."

The president said creating jobs had to be his administration's "number one focus in 2010" and said he wanted Congress to pass a jobs bill "without delay".

Mr Obama also defended the controversial series of bank bailouts, saying that although it was "about as popular as root canal... unemployment might be double what it is today" if the government had allowed the meltdown of the financial system.

But he said the budget deficit had to be tackled, and proposed a three-year freeze on spending on part of the domestic budget, excluding Medicare and social security, which would contribute towards $20bn in savings.

"Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt."

Republicans said they welcomed the proposed freeze on domestic spending, but warned against the expansion of government.

HAVE YOUR SAY Obama's problem is not with his speech-making. The problem is that his policies have been, to date, a complete failure.
Gary, Japan
Send us your comments "The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper, limited role of government at every level," said Gov McDonnell.

The BBC's Richard Lister, in Washington, says it was a sober speech for serious times, primarily devoted to domestic issues.

He says the president talked optimistically about the capacity of the American people to endure hardships, and come through stronger, but at times he also sounded defensive, saying he never suggested he could bring the change he promised all by himself.

Mr Obama's address follows the Democratic Party's loss of a key Senate seat in Massachusetts last week. The result has deprived them of their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate and means the Republicans can effectively block Democratic legislation.

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