Obama at Town Hall: 'We Can't Afford to Wait'
By Michael A. Fletcher
ELKHART, Ind. -- President Obama stepped up his campaign for passage of a huge economic stimulus plan, telling people at a town-hall meeting here, "We can't afford to wait."
Speaking before hundreds of people packing a high school gym in this city that has been hard hit by the economic downturn, Obama today called on Congress to pass the stimulus plan quickly.
"The situation we face could not be more serious," Obama said, noting that the combination of rising unemployment and tightening credit is strangling the U.S. economy.
Obama was introduced at the town hall meeting by Ed Neufeldt, 62, a father of seven who was laid off last fall by Monaco Coach Co., a recreational vehicle maker here that has fallen on hard times.
"We want to work," said Neufeldt, who has been surviving on unemployment insurance.
The Senate has scheduled a procedural vote late this afternoon on its version of the stimulus package that was hammered out with a group of moderates over the weekend. The plan has attracted only scant Republican support, but is expected to pass.
But even if the Senate approves the $827 billion measure, it has to be reconciled with a measure passed earlier by the House, which includes broader spending proposals and fewer tax cuts.
Obama said today that he would like to see some education aid that was cut from the Senate version of the legislation restored, as the bill is reconciled in Congress.
Few places in the country has been as devastated by the still deepening economic downturn as Elkhart. Dubbed the "RV capital of the world," the city has seen jobs disappear as a combination high gasoline prices, tightening credit and rising unemployment have crippled the RV industry, leaving the city reeling. In the past year, unemployment in the county has soared to 15.3 percent -- just over double the national average -- and more than triple the rate here just one year ago.
RV makers including Pilgrim International, Starcraft and Monaco Coach Corp. have slashed hundreds of jobs here. And with an estimated one in four jobs in the city linked to the manufacture and service of recreational vehicles, an immediate turnaround is not in the offing, even as gasoline prices have eased.
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore has been a strong proponent of Obama's stimulus plan. He has produced a list of 18 projects, including renovation of local theater and completion of a railroad overpass that would cost $92.4 million and create an estimated 2,300 jobs.
"Doing nothing is not an option," Obama said.
Posted at 1:40 PM ET on Feb 9, 2009
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