President Barack Obama traveled to Missouri on Wednesday afternoon to discuss his pledge for a stronger second-term commitment to tackling the economic woes that strain many in the middle class nearly five years after the country plunged into a recession.
He discussed economic, education and retirement issues while in Missouri.
Obama made an appearance at Knox College in Illinois Wednesday morning. He then traveled via Air Force One to Whiteman Air Force Base where he met with airmen, including Col. Kristin Goodwin, a female B-2 bomber pilot.
She was joined by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri. Obama noted it was her birthday and she got a ride on Air Force One.
The two traveled by motorcade to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was also on hand.
About 2,500 attended his speech.
"An endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals can't get in the way of what we need to do. And I'm here to say it's got to stop," Obama said to ringing applause. "We've got to focus on jobs and the economy and helping middle-class families get ahead. And if we do that, we're going to solve a whole lot of problems."
The university was chosen because of its Innovation Campus program. It's a new program that connects students with opportunities that allow them to be more competitive once they enter the job force. For example, it gets them paid internships in high-tech fields at companies like Cerner and HoneyWell.
"You are a laboratory for this innovation ... I want the entire country to notice it," Obama said. "I've asked my team to shake the trees all across the country for some of the best ideas out there for keeping college costs down."
The program is a collaboration between UCM, the Lee's Summit School District, Metropolitan Community College and numerous business partners.
Students in the program graduate with a bachelor's degree in two years.
By the time students graduate, they are workplace-ready. The program gives students on-the-job experience through internships in high-tech and high-paying industries. These include information technology, applied engineering and healthcare.
The internships are paid, so the students graduate with less debt, which is one of the university's biggest goals.
Educators say reshaping education could be the key to rebuilding the economy.
While at Whiteman, Obama met with members of the military and their spouses. This included Col. Kristin Goodwin, the vice wing commander at the base. She was the executive officer in command and served as political advisor to the Air Force Chief of Staff. She is also one of only a few women B-2 bomber pilots and has almost 2,730 flight hours. Her 18-month-old daughter was among those greeted by the president.
Obama's speech drew criticism from Republicans.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said he is glad that the president will see Warrensburg and the university. He said the president shouldn't just "pivot to the economy but stick to the economy."
He said Obama too easily gets distracted by other issues. He mocked Obama, saying he's "pivoted to jobs" nearly 20 times, but the economy still languishes.
"What he says after he pivots to jobs is what matters," Blunt said. "We need to stay on the economy until we get it done. Actions speak louder than words."
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said Americans need jobs, not another campaign from the president. He said the president also doesn't have any new ideas:
"The president, who has thrown his weight behind Senate Democrats' efforts to raise taxes, restrict gun rights, and kill the American coal industry - none of which create jobs for struggling Americans - now wants to campaign around the country scolding Congress for taking its eyes off the ball. Well, Mr. President, I've never lost focus on creating jobs for Kansans or strengthening the American economy. From lifting the boots of your regulators off the necks of small businesses to lifting the burden of Obamacare off the backs of American families, I have never stopped fighting for jobs," Roberts said in a statement. "Welcome back to the jobs conversation, Mr. President. Let's get to work."
During his speech in Illinois, Obama chided Congress for being less concerned about the economy and more about "an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals."
"I am here to say this needs to stop," Obama said in a speech at Knox College. "This moment does not require short-term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates."
The president's attempt to refocus on the economy comes amid some hopeful signs of improvement, with the unemployment rate falling and consumer confidence on the rise. But looming spending and budget deadlines this fall could upend that progress if Washington spirals into contentious fiscal fights like those that plagued Obama's first term.
"I believe there are members of both parties who understand what's at stake," Obama said. "But I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to get in our way."
Even before the president spoke, Republicans panned his pivot back to the economy as little more than vague, empty promises.
"It's a hollow shell, it's an Easter Egg with no candy in it," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH.
The president announced no fresh policy proposals, though he promised new ideas in a series of speeches he plans in the coming weeks. They will focus on manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and healthcare.
On education, the president promised to outline "an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs and improve value for middle-class students and their families." He renewed his call for increasing the minimum wage.
Despite pressing public concerns over jobs and economic security, the economy has taken a back seat in Washington to other issues in the first six months of Obama's second term. That's in part due to the White House's decision to focus on other agenda items following Obama's re-election, most notably stricter gun control measures and immigration.
Some distractions also have thrown the White House off balance, including revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political groups and the Justice Department's seizure of journalists' phone records. Foreign policy crises, particularly in the Middle East, have competed for Obama's attention, too.
The president said that while he will continue to press for his other agenda items, there will be few resources and little resolve for solving other problems without a strong economy.
Perhaps more than any other issue, the economy will also be central to Obama's legacy as president. The deep economic troubles that accompanied his first inauguration have eased, and the stock market has soared. But at 7.6 percent, the nationwide unemployment rate remains high, and millions more Americans are underemployed or have seen their wages stagnate.
"This growing inequality isn't just morally wrong. It's bad economics," Obama said. "When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country."
He said the proposals he will outline in speeches later this summer will be aimed at adapting the U.S. economy to an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.
Among the initiatives Obama will tout in the coming weeks is pre-school for all 4-year-olds and training tailored to the jobs of the future, along with a strategy to tackle the rising cost of higher education.
The president also promised steps to encourage homeownership, make it easier for people to save for retirement and to continue to put in place the elements of his unpopular healthcare law in the face of efforts by Republicans in Congress to repeal, delay or eliminate funding for its various parts.
He also pledged new efforts to help manufacturers bring jobs back to America, and to create jobs in the energy sectors of wind, solar and natural gas.
He will travel to the Florida Atlantic coast on Thursday to discuss increased spending for infrastructure.
Wednesday's appearance is Obama's first in the Kansas City area since his 2012 campaign for re-election when he gave a major address on the economy in Kansas.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (MeredithCorp.) and Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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