MOUNTANVIEW, Calif.--President Obama continued to push his economic agenda on the road Monday during a townhall meeting sponsored by LinkedIn, where he took questions from the audience as well as members of the online jobs-forum.
The LinkedIn event was held in the Hahn Auditorium, where audience members were seated in rows of folding chairs about five-deep on three sides of the room, with a row of television cameras on the fourth side. Obama was introduced by Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner, and the pair, both dressed in dark suits and wearing ties, sat on stools, facing the cameras. Deep blue curtains featuring the Linkedin logo were hung around the room.
Weiner told the audience that there are 153 million Americans in the workforce and 3.3 billion worldwide. He said everyone is thinking about the 9.1 U.S. unemployment rate but pointed to another number, 3.2 million, which he said was the number of available jobs in the country.
Most of the questions focused on the economy and jobs, with several people saying they had lost their jobs or their relatives had. One woman said her mother, recently unemployed, was trying to figure out how to return to work and about the future of Social Security and Medicare.
“I’m not going to do what friends the Republicans propose, which is voucherize the Medicare system. We are going to be pushing back against that kind of proposal,” Obama said at one point.
Midway through the hour-long session, Obama called on a man wearing glasses, who was seated in one of the back rows. The man stood up and explained that he was unemployed “by choice” after having worked at a start-up company down the road in Silicon Valley. He had been successful enough that he was able to retire and live comfortably, even though he looked to be in his 40s.
“My question is: Would you please raise my taxes?” the man asked, to audience applause. “I’d like very much to have a country that continues to invest in things like Pell grants, infrastructure and job training programs that made it possible for me to get to where I am.”
Obama replied: “So often the tax debate is framed as class warfare...American success is premised on individuals who have a great idea, going out there and pursuing their dreams and making a whole lot of money in the process. That’s great. It’s part of what makes America so successful.”
“As you just pointed out, we’re successful because somebody invested in our education, somebody built our schools, somebody created incredible universities. We benefit from somebody somewhere making investments in us. I do not care who you are. That’s true of all of us.”
Obama added that his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires isn’t “talking about putative rates that will stop you from working at a start-up and being successful.
“We’re talking about going back to the rates of the ‘90s when, as I recall, Silicon Valley was doing pretty good. During that period, the rich got richer. The middle class expanded. Everybody was doing well. We’re not punishing those doing well. That’s the last thing I want to do. The question is how can we afford to continue making the investments that can propel America forward?”
To the man who had asked the question, Obama said finally: “I appreciate the fact that you recognize we are in this thing together. We’re not on our own. Those of us who have been successful have to remember that.”
At the end of the event, Obama said: “People are just looking for commonsense… The problem is not outside of Washington but the problem is everything has become so ideological and everyone is just focused on the next election and putting party before country that we’re not able to solve our problems.”
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