ELYRIA, Ohio — President Obama took his economic argument on the road Wednesday, declaring at a community college in hard-hit manufacturing country that his commitment to workforce training programs — programs, he said, that Republicans would gut — has helped thousands of laid-off workers find new jobs.
Obama sought to draw a stark contrast between his efforts to continue investing in what he described as the foundations of America’s economic strength — and “the other side,” which, the president said, would put an end to those investments in favor of granting tax breaks for the rich.
To underscore that argument, Obama took a not-too-subtle swipe at his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, declaring: “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” There remains a role for government to give everybody a “fair shot,” Obama said — not just the wealthy.
“Investing in a community college is just like investing in a new road or new highway or broadband Internet,” Obama told a crowd of a few hundred at Lorain County Community College west of Cleveland. “These are not grand schemes to redistribute wealth. They’ve been made by Democrats and Republicans for generations because they benefit all of us. That’s what leads to strong, durable economic growth.”
Obama has visited Lorain before, and on Wednesday he touted the same program — a workforce training program that receives federal funding through the Workforce Investment Act.
The program is designed to adapt quickly to the changing personnel needs of employers, and is credited with placing hundreds of laid-off manufacturing workers in new jobs in more advanced fields.
The White House issued a fact sheet this week arguing that the Workforce Investment Act is among the discretionary programs that could be cut under the Republican budget program authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Republicans, Obama said, would rather grant tax cuts to the rich than retain programs like the one in Lorain.
“Why would we want to cut this program to give folks like me a tax cut that we don’t need and that the country can’t afford?” Obama asked. “What’s the better way to make the economy stronger?”
Republicans reacted swiftly to Obama’s remarks, accusing him of class warfare and of trying to divide Americans.
“One of the things that’s most disappointing to me in our president has been that over the past three and a half years, he has engaged in constant efforts to divide America,” said Romney, speaking in Charlotte on Wednesday. “And each day if there is a problem of some kind, he points to some group of Americans that must be responsible, never saying he’s responsible for the mistakes he’s made.”
Romney is sensitive to perceptions that he grew up wealthy, so Obama’s “silver spoon” remark could strike a nerve. On the campaign trail, the former Massachusetts governor sometimes talks about his father, George, growing up poor and driving across the American West looking for work. When Mitt was born, the family was middle class, moving from Detroit to the tony suburb of Bloomfield Hills only after Mitt was a teenager, when his father took over American Motors. Although Mitt’s parents helped fund his college and graduate education, and helped him and his wife, Anne, buy their first home, he did not inherit his parents’ wealth; he amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune on his own, working at Bain Capital.
Republicans also charged Obama with misrepresenting the details of the Ryan plan. Although the plan does propose 5 percent cuts to discretionary spending (of which the Workforce Investment Act is a part), it remains unknown exactly which programs would be cut.
“The president’s stagnant economy remains the number one threat to workers in the United States, and spreading falsehoods about our budget isn’t going to put a single American back to work,” said Ryan spokesman Gerrit Lansing. “His claims cannot be sourced to any of our budget’s proposals, and his assumptions about our budget’s approach to job training are flatly contradicted by the clearly stated, specific solutions we advance to replace the president’s failed approach with accountable career scholarships targeted to those who need them the most.”
Lorain County is among the hardest-hit regions in the country, particularly in the manufacturing sector. According to the White House, the county lost 11,500 jobs over the past three decades, all but 1,000 of them due to factory closings.
But the county has rebounded in recent years, and its unemployment rate has dropped below 9 percent. Community college officials and the White House credit the workforce training program, in part: It boasts a 90 percent placement rate within three months of graduation.
Staff writers Nia-Malika Henderson and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.