In Indiana, Obama touts success of auto industry bailout

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 4:25 PM

KOKOMO, IND. - President Obama used a visit to a revitalized Chrysler transmission plant here Tuesday to tout the success of his auto industry bailout, saying that all three major U.S. automakers are profitable and growing because his administration made "the right decision" to back them.

"There were those who were prepared to give up on Kokomo and our auto industry," Obama told workers at the Indiana plant, where he said hiring is increasing and Chrysler is investing more than $1.1 billion to boost production. "There were those who said it was going to be too difficult or that it was bad politics or it was throwing good money after bad."

Although those voices were "pretty loud," he said, "we made the decision to stand behind the auto industry . . . . We made the decision to stand with you because we had confidence in the American worker more than anything. And today we know that was the right decision."

Obama said each of the Big Three automakers - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - has gained market share compared to foreign counterparts for the first time in more than a decade.

"We're coming back. We're on the move. All three American companies are profitable, and they are growing," Obama said to applause. "So here's the lesson: don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity. Don't bet against the American worker. Do not bet against us."

In some ways, the president's appearance in this small Midwestern town known as the "city of firsts," where Old Ben, a two-ton bull, still gets bragging rights as the world's biggest stuffed steer, represented a kickoff of the 2012 race for the White House.

The visit by Obama and Vice President Biden was billed by the administration as part of its "White House to Main Street" effort to highlight economic progress and publicize the back-from-the-brink success of the automobile industry.

But with Republicans flexing their newfound power in Washington and gaming out their 2012 prospects, and the White House ready to put top political players back in campaign mode, it was hard not to see this visit as an opening argument for 2012.

As part of the campaign-style visit, Obama and Biden had lunch with firefighters, toured an elementary school, made an unannounced stop at a bakery and greeted people outside a car wash.

In his remarks at the transmission plant, Obama noted a key area of disagreement with Republicans in Washington: a dispute over extending tax cuts for the middle class. Obama said Congress needs to act in the next few weeks to prevent taxes from increasing in January by about $3,000 a year for a typical middle-class family. But he said Republicans also want to extend the tax cuts "for the wealthiest Americans, for millionaires and billionaires," forcing the nation to borrow $700 billion to pay for the cuts over the next decade.

"I don't think we can afford it right now," Obama said. He urged Congress, with its new Republican majority in the House, to approve the extension of tax cuts for the middle class, which he has previously defined as families earning less than $250,000 a year. "The last thing we can afford to do right now is raise taxes on middle-class families," he said.

The speech was attended by some of Indiana's leading Democratic officials, but Republicans generally stayed away.

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