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In Youngstown, Obama touts benefits of stimulus package

| Wednesday, May 19, 2010

YOUNGSTOWN — President Obama yesterday told hundreds of steelworkers in the Mahoning Valley that trillions of federal stimulus dollars saved their jobs and would transform the Rust Belt for generations.

"Job One was rescuing our economy," Obama said while touring the steel pipe warehouse of manufacturer V&M Star. "And that required some steps that were, frankly, unpopular — steps like stabilizing a financial system on the brink of collapse and intervening in an auto industry on the brink of extinction. I knew those steps would be largely unpopular."

V&M Star is a unit of Vallourec & Mannesmann Tubes, a French-owned company, and melts steel scrap and rolls it into tubes — mostly for the oil industry, but with plans to sell pipe to natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania and nationwide. In February, V&M announced a $650 million expansion that would double the plant's 350 manufacturing jobs and create 400 temporary construction jobs. It's using $20 million of federal money to extend rail and road lines into the mammoth mill over the summer.

According to the White House, the expanded V&M will be the largest factory built in the industrial valley in nearly a half-century and promises to become what Obama termed an "economic lifeline" for Youngstown.

Obama credited the $85 billion taxpayer investment in reeling auto giants General Motors and Chrysler for saving the GM assembly plant in nearby Lordstown. In February, GM announced it would restart a third shift at the plant that will make the Chevrolet Cruze, bringing back 1,200 blue-collar workers.

Obama credited federally subsidized unemployment checks, health insurance coverage, small-business loans and job programs for teachers and police officers with saving America from "a deeper world of hurt." April added 290,000 jobs nationwide, the fourth consecutive month during a sluggish recovery.

The president had tough words for congressional Republicans and other critics of deficit spending — expected to rise to more than $11 trillion this year — saying they like to "have it both ways."

"I think those critics who have been trying to bad-mouth these efforts — they know it's working," he said. "These folks who opposed this every step of the way, predicting nothing but failure, they know it's working because — this always puts a smile on my face — even as they've tried to score political points attacking these members of Congress, a lot of them go home and then they claim credit for the very things they voted against."

Obama didn't express support for Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for his stimulus package.

GOP critics in Youngstown fired back at the president, saying it was "ridiculous" for him to claim federal stimulus money saved Ohio jobs.

"I recall when the stimulus package was proposed. The unemployment rate in Youngstown was 12 percent. Today, it is approaching 15 percent," said Mahoning County Republican Party Vice Chairman Mark Munroe, 59.

"The president tried to take credit at V&M for what is really a private-sector success story. V&M has a highly qualified, well-educated work force, and Youngstown is next to the gas fields the company wants to exploit. They're not staying in Youngstown because the federal government gave them $20 million, especially when they spent far, far more than that out of their own pocket to expand."

Mill workers said they liked much of the president's message.

"He hit on a couple of important points. He said he's big on free trade, and I support that," said Nick McClimans, 20, of Hermitage, a summer employee who studies accounting at Penn State University. "Locally, the job market has gotten a little bit better. Last year, no one was hiring, but now some companies are starting to hire people."

Nationwide, at least one in every 10 adult workers can't find a job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"What I liked was that he expressed hope and confidence. He wants to invest in people and he wants people to invest in themselves, and I support that," said Richard Simon, 59, an assistant team leader in the plant's shipping department who grew up in Grove City and lives in Warren, Ohio.

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