Pitching His Budget, Obama Makes a California Swing
By Scott Wilson
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- President Obama begins a visit to southern California today where he plans to use a backdrop of job losses and home foreclosures to argue for a budget proposal he says will begin building a new economy.
California supported Obama in last year's election, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed the president's stimulus package, which will bring a state with a double-digit unemployment rate more than $30 billion in federal help.
But an angry populism fed by the financial crisis is rising in the country, including among moderate Republicans, whose support for Obama in this state was important to his success. Here in traditionally conservative Orange County, where he will hold a town hall-style event tonight, his visit is as much a show of solidarity as sales opportunity.
"I think people are right to be angry," the president said before leaving Washington, referring to the AIG bonuses issue. "I'm angry. What I want us to do, though, is channel our anger in a constructive way."
Obama's two-day California agenda is planned, event by event, to showcase the short-term benefits of the recently passed stimulus package and also longer-range plans embedded in his $3.6 trillion budget to change the nation's economy.
Some of those ideas on health care, energy and education have been received skeptically in Washington. The popular president is taking them to a place looking hard for remedies.
Once a hub of manufacturing and agriculture, before housing developments replaced the acres of citrus groves, Orange County has been pummeled by the economic downturn. The housing bubble popped with devastating effect here, undermining public finances and private-sector employment.
More than 700 foreclosures were recorded last month, an improvement from a year ago but a sign the economy continues to move in the wrong direction. The county unemployment rate stands at 7.5 percent and the labor force continues to shed thousands of jobs a month.
Before leaving Washington today, the president said, "We have to move beyond a constant bubble-bust mentality and start establishing a foundation for long-term economic growth."
Obama, who lost the county in the general election, will make the case that short-term help is on the way in the form of $28 million in stimulus money for five road projects.
The place is infamous for traffic congestion. In all, Orange County transportation projects are scheduled to receive $200 million from the $787 billion stimulus plan.
Jerome Ruddins, a construction manager on a highway project that will receive federal aid, will introduce the president at today's town-hall event, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Eastern. It is being held at the county fairgrounds, and the line of those planning to attend started forming hours earlier.
The president plans to hold two town-hall forums -- one today, and one Thursday in Los Angeles, where Schwarzenegger will introduce him.
Obama's budget includes proposals designed to bring down the cost of health care and improve public education, a major concern in a state where much of the system is funded by now-falling property tax revenue.
In a summary of the county's economic straits, the White House listed an appeal by the city of Mission Viejo for the local school district to cut salaries by 4 percent to keep open an elementary school. It is being closed to help fill a $10 million budget shortfall.
Conservatives have criticized Obama's budget proposal as too big given the country's poor economy, enormous debt burden and trillion-dollar Bush-era deficit, which the president says his plan would cut in half by 2012. In defending it, Obama has said the country must spend now to make changes that may not be evident for years.
His visit Thursday to an electric-vehicle manufacturing laboratory in Los Angeles will give him the forum to make that point.
Obama said this week that his budget plan contains billions of dollars in new spending on renewable and alternative energy proposals, saying this "will finally spark the transformation we need" in a potentially job-creating field.
The president will end his California trip Thursday with an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Posted at 5:29 PM ET on Mar 18, 2009
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