Obama Pitches Innovation in Upstate New York

By Michael D. Shear and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 21, 2009; 4:21 PM

TROY, N.Y., Sept. 21 -- President Obama called Monday for "a new generation of innovation" as he outlined a strategy to build on more than $100 billion in economic stimulus funding to promote progress in such areas as clean energy, health care and basic research.

"As we emerge from this current economic crisis, our great challenge will be to ensure that we don't just drift into the future," Obama said in a speech at Hudson Valley Community College. He said his strategy was aimed at building an economy better equipped to compete internationally, avoid cycles of boom and bust and create "the jobs of the future."

Accompanied by Vice President Biden's wife, Jill Biden, a community college professor in Northern Virginia, Obama also used the occasion to promote his education goals, notably the opportunities offered by two-year community colleges.

"By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world," he predicted to applause from assembled students, faculty, lawmakers and local officials. "We used to be number one. We should be number one again."

He took aim at some of the nation's largest banks for their opposition to a bill intended to reform the nation's student loan system. The banks, he said, want to preserve "an unwarranted subsidy" worth $80 billion, which the federal government provides to encourage the banks to make loans that are federally guaranteed anyway.

The large banks, many of which have benefited from taxpayer bailouts, "are lobbying to keep this easy money flowing," Obama said. "This is exactly the kind of special interest effort that has succeeded before and that we cannot allow to succeed again."

Pledging to strengthen the U.S. commitment to research and development, Obama said his administration intends to reverse a steady decline of federal investment in the sector over the last four decades as a share of national income. He noted that basic research in the past had led to such breakthroughs as solar panels, CAT scans and global positioning systems, and he declared a goal of putting funds equal to 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product into research and development.

After the speech, Obama headed to New York City to launch a week of global diplomacy at the United Nations, facing fresh evidence from one of his top generals of the burdens and difficulties of America's international responsibilities.

Obama's appearance in Troy, 140 miles north of New York City, drew attention to a White House spat with New York's Democratic governor, David A. Paterson, whose fading popularity has led to reports that Obama would like him to withdraw from his campaign for a full term. Paterson, who took office in March 2008 after Eliot L. Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal, has vowed to run anyway.

After landing in Albany aboard Air Force One, Obama greeted Paterson cordially, and the two had a brief exchange that pool reporters could not hear. In a news briefing on the plane en route to New York, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to confirm or deny reports that Obama wants Paterson to get out of the gubernatorial race.

"I think people are aware of the tough situation that the governor of New York is in," Gibbs said. "I wouldn't add a lot to what you've read except this is a decision that he's going to make."

In New York, Obama planned to tape an appearance on the "Late Show With David Letterman," becoming the first sitting president to do so, before starting his participation in a three-day session of the United Nations General Assembly. Later, he travels to Pittsburgh to host the Group of 20 economic summit.

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