CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — President Barack Obama, promoting his opportunity-for-all economic agenda in the state that helped him get elected, said Wednesday that "America is not about handouts" but people do expect their shot at success. Following up on his State of the Union address, he defended the government's role in ensuring fairness and rejected criticisms about class warfare.
"There's no reason why we can't restore the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well," Obama said from a manufacturing plant. He said most people don't have unrealistic ambitions about their economic future but they do want to own a home, save for retirement and "achieve that small measure of an American dream."
Obama spoke at the start of a three-day tour of politically crucial states to sell his 2012 economic policy goals and pitch his presidency to a divided public. Fresh from his address to a joint session of Congress, Obama sought to boost his ideas for more manufacturing on American soil by showcasing a conveyor belt component manufacturer in Iowa and an Intel plant in Arizona.
Running for re-election against Republicans who've questioned his economic stewardship, the president said he wants to restore the basic promise of America, "and it starts with manufacturing." Inside the factory, speaking to roughly 300 workers and guests, Obama was flanked by machinery and a banner with his latest slogan: "America Built to Last."
Presidential travel following the State of the Union is commonplace, allowing presidents to temporarily bask in the afterglow of their prime-time performances, milking their message before key constituencies.
Obama will highlight energy security Thursday in Nevada and Colorado and wrap up Friday by pushing education and training proposals at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Republicans have blasted Obama for offering divisive politics and pushing a greater role for government intervention in people's lives. "Iowans are still waiting for Obama to deliver on the promises of his campaign and his first term," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.
Obama shot back that Republicans would prefer a world in which people are left on their own, saying he wants to lead a nation in which hard work has rewards.
"America is not about handouts," he said. "America is about earning everything you've got."
Obama toured Conveyor Engineering & Manufacturing, a small family-owned Cedar Rapids company that builds giant conveyor belt screws, working primarily with the ethanol and food industries
The president is pushing a litany of tax proposals that he said would boost manufacturing jobs, from removing tax deductions for companies when they move their operations overseas to creating a new tax credit to offset expenses for moving operations back to the U.S. Other proposals included doubling tax deductions for advanced manufacturing, extending tax credits for clean energy projects and creating new tax credits to encourage companies to relocate in communities that suffered a major job loss, like the closing of a plant.
Obama economic advisers said the administration would seek a minimum corporate tax for multinational companies, closing a loophole that allows companies to shift profits overseas.
Obama's trip comes amid signs of economic improvements, even as battling Republican presidential contenders appeal to conservatives by sounding increasingly hostile to his policies.
Underlying the president's specific policy proposals will be the election-year economic fairness argument that he has been refining since he spelled it out in Osawatomie, Kan., last month, including higher taxes on the wealthy. Reinforcing the political subtext of the trip is the fact that four of the five states he will visit will hold Republican presidential caucuses or primaries within the next month. The two caucuses — in Nevada and Colorado — come within two weeks of his visit.
Obama has made a point of grabbing headlines in states in the midst of Republican presidential contests, eager not to cede the political message to his rivals.
What's more, of five paths that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has charted to win re-election in November, all foresee winning Michigan, three require winning Iowa, two require Colorado and Nevada, and one has Arizona in the Obama win column. In 2008, of the five states he's visiting, Obama lost only Arizona, the home state of then rival John McCain.