Obama Moves the Spotlight to Florida with Speech on Economy
By Michael D. Shear
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- President Obama stood with a top Republican supporter of his one-time presidential rival today as he spent a second day highlighting the impact of the economic crisis on ordinary Americans.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was on Sen. John McCain's short list for vice president, introduced Obama at a town hall in a part of his state that has double-digit unemployment and the highest home foreclosure rate in the nation.
"We know that it's important that we pass a stimulus package," Crist told a crowd of about 1,500. "It's important that we do so to help education, to help our infrastructure."
But, he added: "We need to do it in a bipartisan way.... This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that."
Even as the Senate was scheduled to begin voting on his stimulus package back in Washington, Obama wagged his finger at lawmakers who he described as wanting to do nothing in the face of those who are suffering the most.
"Of course, there are some critics, always critics, who say we can't afford to take on these priorities," Obama said. "But we have postponed and neglected them for too long"
He added: "I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act in the face of this crisis will only worsen things.... Doing nothing is not an option. You didn't send me to Washington to do nothing."
Florida has been especially hard-hit by the housing-fueled economic downturn, and Fort Myers is among the most economically desperate parts of the state.
The pastel-colored homes in the Coral Gables and Fort Myers area have plummeted in value as owners were forced to abandon them to the banks.
The price of an average home in the area dropped from $322,000 at the end of 2005 to just over $106,000 last December.
Last year, 12 percent of the housing units in the area received a foreclosure notice.
The event here was highly stage-managed, reflecting both the skills Obama honed as a presidential candidate and the intensity of the battle over the stimulus package back in Washington.
During his opening remarks, the president talked about Steve Adkins, who runs a Fort Myers construction company that specializes in building and repairing schools. Adkins, who was in the audience with his wife and two young children, laid off 50 percent of his workers last year.
"That is what this debate is about," the president said. "Folks in Fort Myers and all across the country who have lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place. Parents who've lost their health care and lie awake at night praying their kids don't get sick."
The Adkins story feeds into the larger narrative of Obama's push for his stimulus package: that passage of the legislation will fuel a resurgence of hiring at companies like the one Adkins runs.
In his press conference Tuesday night, the president question the wisdom of Republican efforts to remove spending on school construction from the stimulus package.
"Why wouldn't we want to build state of the art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy, and, by the way, right now, will create jobs?" he asked.
In documents provided to reporters by the White House in advance of the town hall, aides claimed that the stimulus package would create 218,300 jobs in Florida, provide a tax cut for 6.89 million people and give a $2,500 tax credit for college tuition to almost 200,000 people.
Obama traveled to Fort Myers in Air Force One, riding with nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives from Florida: Robert Wexler, Kendrick Meek, Suzanne Kosmas, Ron Klein, Alan Grayson, Kathy Castor, Corrine Brown, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Allen Boyd.
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