Obama arrives in Atkinson
President Obama arrived at first scheduled event, town hall meeting at Wyffels Hybrids, Inc. in Atkinson, IL, just a few minutes late, at 11:43 a.m. CST.
Bus caravan passed long row of American flags that had been placed earlier this week by townspeople to greet the presidential party. People lined the roads in greeting, including a series of schoolchildren in front of the local elementary school. Several signs in the crowd, including "Coal means afforable electricity" and "I skipped Da Bears to see Da Prez."
En route to event, bus passed a local fire station being rebuilt using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Obama makes a callout to that project during the course of his opening remarks, which began approximately 12:02 p.m. CST. He mentioned the project before going on to say we need "roads and bridges and schools all across the country." He also praises local business
Wyffels Hybrids, hosting the event, for "hiring some folks" and expanding. Obama initially mispronounces the Wyffels family name "Waffles" before being loudly corrected by the crowd. No teleprompters were visible throughout the opening remarks which took place in a warehouse against a backdrop of ballets stacked with bags labeled Wyffels Hybrids.
Obama stuck on a central theme of the last few days, that there is "nothing wrong with our country right now," but "there is something wrong with our politics." (check quotes against official transcript to follow.) No notably hostile questions during the event, and Obama's answers were frequently greeted with light to moderate applause.
"I need you to send a message to folks in washington: Stop drawing a line in the sand. It's time to stop putting country ahead of party ..."
Louann Levine (ph) of Geneseo, a local real estate agent, asked Obama about the housing market, which she said was on the rebound locally until the summer began. "Since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped," she said. "We have no consumer confidence ... I should be out working 14 hours a day, and I am not."
Obama talked up loan modification programs before saying that "a lot of this has to do with confidence, as you've said." However, he acknowledged "the federal government is not going to be able to do this all by itself," but will in fact require consumers, business and government to work together.
"If we get the overall economy moving, if we pass this payroll tax cut, if we get some of these tax credits for business" from last year extended, both consumer confidence, the housing market and the overall economy will improve, he said.
On the debt ceiling debate: "I continue to believe we need a balanced approach." He said following the congressional supercommittee's recommendations for $1.5 trillion in cuts later this year, he intends to make a proposal conatining additional deficit reduction beyond the $1.5 trillion. There were several callbacks throughout the introduction and question-and-answer session to remarks he had made over the past few days, including the op-ed piece written by Warren Buffett arguing that the rich should pay higher tax rates.
Jan Lowhouse of Tiskilwa asked about jobs: "What can you do without Congress, today" to improve employment opportunities. Obama promotes "reverse boot camp" to train veterans leaving the military and commitments the government has received from businesses across the country to hire qualified veterans. Obama also listed as a specific item the federal commission looking into burdensome regulations. But, "frankly, we could do more with Congress' cooperation." Further, "when did building roads become a partisan issue?" regarding resistence to infrastructure programs.
Kelly Wyffels, a student at Western Illinois University and a relative of the Wyffels family hosting the event, asked Obama what he thought the best course of study would be to get a job.
"Everything requires an education," Obama told her as he praised her course of study in supply-chain management. "I odn't have to tell the farmers here. You're looking at GPS, you're studying markets around the world. ... It's not just a matter of going out with a plow into the field." But "don't just go to college without having an idea what's interesting to you."
Alex McIlvoy, just turned 11, asked about what Obama could do to keep the local ethanol plant running.
Obama talked up his strong support of biofuels dating back to his time in the Illinois state Senate, but said "the more we see the science" the greater the effort to diversify biofuels and improve efficiency with ethanol, particularly with the new effort to find methods of creating biofuels without using products coming from the food chain. "There's no reason we should fall behind a country like Brazil when it comes to developing alternative energy."
He closed by reminding the crowd, "Don't bet against America. Don't bet against our workers, don't bet agaist our businesses. We have gone through tougher times than this and we have always come out on top." He then reminded them, as at previous stops this week, that "I need your voices out there, talking to folks from both parties and telling them that I need" cooperation across party lines.