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Obama: It's 'gut-check time' for Senate

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By Mike Wereschagin and Salena Zito,
Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011
 

Saying the U.S. Senate faces a "moment of truth" today, President Obama pressured lawmakers to pass his jobs plan during an appearance on the South Side.

"Your senators are voting today on this jobs bill. This is gut-check time," Obama said. "Any senator who votes 'no' should have to look you in the eye and tell you exactly what they're opposed to. ... I think they'd have a hard time explaining why they voted 'no' on this bill, other than that I proposed it."

With an unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent, a job approval rating under 50 percent and the verdict of the voters 13 months away, President Obama came to Pittsburgh today to rally the public behind his jobs bill, which faces a hostile opposition in Congress, including some Democrats wary of its proposed tax increases.

"There are more than a million construction workers who could be repairing our roads and bridges and modernizing our schools right now," Obama told more than 300 people in the IBEW Local No. 5 hall on the South Side. "Why would any senator say no to that?"

He met with members of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness -- an advisory panel of 26 business executives, two labor leaders and others -- at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 on the South Side.

"The American people can't afford to wait. They need help right now," he told the council. He called on business leaders to help get his $447 billion jobs bill "across the finish line."

The bill is expected to face a Senate vote as early as today. At stake are Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, the political capital of a president who demanded passage of his bill and the future of 14 million unemployed Americans.

"This is a moment of truth for the U.S. Senate," Obama said during his speech. "In front of them is a bill, a jobs bill that independent economists have said will grow this economy and put Americans back to work."

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said Obama has to continue pushing his jobs bill, which contains billions of dollars in spending on road, bridge and school construction and maintenance projects.

"America's infrastructure is falling behind the rest of the world," Gerard said. "Show me one country that got to the top of the heap by cutting schools. Show me one country that got to the top by cutting back on infrastructure."

Obama arrived at the IBEW hall just before noon and met with two sets of union trainees. He then sat down with 30 members of his jobs panel, saying he read their report last night.

He said he would act even without congressional approval of his whole jobs package.

"The American people can't afford to wait. They need help right now," he told the council. He also called on business leaders to help get the bill "across the finish line."

Steelers chairman and Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney was at the IBEW, a block from the Steelers training facility. Rooney, 79, who leaves for Ireland today, said he was there to show his support for the president.

"I have been with him since the beginning," he said.

Jim Burn of Millvale, chairman of the state Democratic party, said Obama has to win Pennsylvania voters back in his corner.

"The numbers show there is a lot of work to be done in this state to improve his numbers," he said. "He needs to stick to talking about jobs from now until the finish line."

Obama arrived on Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport at 11:05 a.m., about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Obama emerged from the hulking Boeing 747 at 11:15.

The president was greeted on the ground by Air Force Col. James Finney, commander of the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon; Democratic U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire of McCandless and Mike Doyle of Forest Hills; Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato; and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

He jogged to a group of about 45 people, and briefly shook hands and gave autographs.

"I want to make sure he gets support. During these times, it seems he might not be getting a great deal," said Darryl Spivey, 47, an insurance executive from Allison Park.

Jennifer Hess got a pass from Ft. Allen Elementary in Hempfield to bring her three boys, ages 5, 8 and 9. "It's worth missing school to see the president," said Eric Hess, a fourth-grader and the oldest.

The president told one supporter he resembled the actor Wesley Snipes.

"I can't believe he called me that. He's a funny guy," said Kurtley Knight, 30, of Bellevue. "I told him we're going to (help him) win Pennsylvania."

Obama got into his limousine and left the airport at 11:19. His motorcade included another limousine, nine police motorcycles, five police cruisers, five sport utility vehicles, six vans, a tactical truck and an ambulance.

A group of about 75 to 100 mostly college students and other young adults gathered along Hot Metal Street near the American Eagle Outfitter headquarters in SouthSide Works to demonstrate for environmental causes as the presidential motorcade rolled by around 11:45 a.m.

"Obama, yes. Pipeline, no," they chanted in unison at times.

"Justice, justice," they replied other times to what they want in response to questions blared through a microphone.

The group organized through Facebook and other websites, including the one for the Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition.

Many wanted the president's attention regarding the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from Canada's tar sands deposit in Alberta about 1,700 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Others railed against Marcellus shale drilling.

"We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity with Obama here to let him know we aren't giving up," said Ellie Gordon, 26, of Squirrel Hill, who participated recently in ongoing anti-tar sands protests outside the White House in Washington, D.C. "We don't want that pipeline to happen. He's the only one who can stop it."

Obama ran for president as an "ardent environmentalist," but has not lived up to that measure, Gordon said.

"A lot of people like us — young people — worked on his campaign and helped get him elected," she said. "We feel let down."

Young people plan to meet Obama everywhere he travels around the country to spread the same message, said Seth Bush, 21, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. Another group planned to demonstrate when the president attends two fundraisers tonight in Orlando, Fla.

"We lobby with our bodies. We realize we don't have the money the large corporations have," said Bush, a Doylestown native who said he campaigned for Obama in 2008. "This is people power. He'll be met everywhere he goes by us."

The president needs to distance himself from corporate ties and live up to more promises for the environment and clean energy, Bush said.

"He made campaign promises when he was running. And if he can't live up to those, how can we support him again?" Bush asked. "I want to support him. I really do. I almost cried when he was elected, but I don't feel that way anymore."

The group of demonstrators dispersed by noon.

President Obama boarded Air Force One at 3:11 p.m., more than a half-hour later than his scheduled departure from the 911th Air Force Reserve base in Moon.

The Boeing 747 took off under cloudy skies 11 minutes later.

Before Obama arrived, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of the council, started a roundtable discussion at the robotics manufacturer Seegrid in Moon. He was expected to be joined by fellow jobs council members Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel; Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez; and Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Ravenstahl, America Online founder Steve Case and others hosted a separate event on the South Side with about 40 entrepreneurs.

Ravenstahl said: "We are being looked at as a model" for job creation.

The session focused on high-growth entrepreneurship, and came a week after Ravenstahl announced a partnership with business leaders and the university community to foster new business growth in the city. Ravenstahl took part in a conference call with Mills last week to preview Obama's visit.

Case said his message to Obama was that entrepreneurs are "the secret sauce" of economic growth.

"The story of America's success is written by entrepreneurs," Obama said after the jobs council, noting Pittsburgh won a federal grant last month to help foster new businesses.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Sept. 28 found 54 percent of voters in the state disapproved of Obama's job performance, compared to 34 percent who approved. Obama in recent weeks has pivoted to a more aggressive style, insisting Congress pass his jobs bill with all its provisions and portraying Republican reticence as political gamesmanship. Although his bill does contain many proposals Republicans embraced in the past -- a central part of Obama's pitch that any GOP opposition is purely political -- he proposes to pay for it with tax increases on the wealthy that Republican lawmakers have staunchly and almost uniformly opposed for years.

Most people approve of the majority of Obama's jobs bill, according to a Gallup poll released Sept. 20. Tax breaks for hiring, extending unemployment benefits and increasing taxes on the wealthy all get majority support, according to the survey. But people remain deeply worried about the economy, with 75 percent telling Gallup pollsters they fear it's getting worse, the highest percentage who've said that since shortly after Obama's inauguration in January 2009.

— Staff writers Tom Fontaine and Jason Cato contributed to this report.

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Photo Galleries

President Barack Obama Visits IBEW

President Barack Obama Visits IBEW

President Barack Obama talks about his jobs bill at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 Training Center

 

 
 


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