GOP accuses Obama of skipping tough issues in Eastern Iowa speech


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BETTENDORF — President Obama praised eastern Iowa industry and iterated plans to build a partnership between the federal government and U.S. manufacturers, but critics said the president’s speech here on Tuesday didn’t do enough to address more pressing issues.

Flanked on stage by massive rolls of aluminum, the president singled out Alcoa’s Quad Cities factory as a prime example of why the manufacturing industry is critical to the revitalization and stabilization of America’s economy.

Though his speech was met with applause by a crowd made up mainly of Alcoa employees, some Iowans — including Republican Gov. Terry Branstad — said the speech lacked substance.

Branstad said Obama avoided urgent issues, such as lowering corporate income taxes and reducing federal regulations on business, which Branstad said will ease unemployment.

“The corporate income tax in this country puts us at a disadvantage, and some of the regulatory things … are an impediment so those are the kind of things I wished he had addressed,” the governor said.

Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Sam Roecker defended the president, saying Branstad shouldn’t look to one speech for answers. Instead, he contended, Obama has already put “hard policies” in place to address such issues.

“It’s kind of hard to fit all of those things into one speech,” Roecker said.

University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said Branstad and others’ concerns with substance are legitimate.

“You just didn’t see that kind of ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to get things turned around’ kind of speech,” Hagle said.

“If he’s going to come all the way to Iowa there needs to be some purpose there.”

Though Obama did not offer any specific policy objectives during his Alcoa speech, the president recapped a partnership he announced last week in Pennsylvania, which will bring together schools, the government, and businesses in hopes of churning out new ideas more quickly.

“The idea is to create jobs now, and to make sure America stays on the cutting edge of manufacturing for years to come,” Obama said.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said Obama’s plan resonated with him and his constituents.

“People are tired of outsourcing, they’re tired of sending jobs overseas,” Loebsack told The Daily Iowan after Obama’s speech. “The president has many of the same ideas I have.”

Boosting factory production in the United States could present a challenge for Obama, who has pushed environmentally friendly policies. But White House officials said new projects would make sustainability a priority.

“The American manufacturing economy is as green as any manufacturing economy all over the world,” Ron Bloom, an Obama adviser, said in a conference call Monday. “We make things in a friendly way, we have strict standards, and we adhere to those standards.”

Alcoa spokesman John Riches said the Bettendorf plant in particular has focused on environmentally responsible manufacturing.

He said in the last couple decades, it has reduced air emissions by 95 percent and Mississippi water use by 96 percent.

In addition to the factory following a “green” path, Obama singled out the Alcoa plant because it has overcome economic hardships.

Alcoa Vice President John Fox said the company now employs more people than it did before the economic downtown, during which it was forced to lay off a number of its 2,200 employees.

Despite the overall positive message of the president’s speech, Obama noted that there is still work to be done. He referred to ongoing budget discussions in Washington and the nation’s unemployment rates.

“These steps won’t help solve every problem that we face,” he told to the crowd packed in among massive machinery. “No matter what you may hear, there’s no silver bullet to reverse a decade of economic challenges.”

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