This past week President Barack Obama message on the economy focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, as he again pushed Congress to pass the unemployment benefits extension for the long term jobless and introduced manufacturing institutes that will train Americans for high tech manufacturing jobs. The President gave a major speech to "2000 people" on those economic themes at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 and followed up on the same message in his weekly address released on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. In both his speech and weekly address the President promised to take the initiative when Congress fails to act.
In his speech in North Carolina, President Obama expressed that he wants to work with Congress on the economy, but when they stall on the issue, he promised to "act"; "The challenge of making sure everyone who works hard can get ahead in today's economy is so important that we can't wait for Congress to solve it. Where I can act, on my own without Congress, I'm going to do so. And today I'm here to act." President Obama continues his streak of criticizing Congressional Republicans in his speeches.
Obama announced his manufacturing innovation institute that will train and create jobs in manufacturing, which Obama deems is vital to middle class jobs creation and the economy. Obama announced the initiative in his speech; "The reason I came here today is because we've got to do more to connect universities like NC State with companies like Vacon to make America the number-one place in the world to open new businesses and create new jobs." The President explained these "hubs" will "help to lift up our communities. They'll help spark the technology and research that will create the new industries, the good jobs required for folks to punch their ticket into the middle class."
President Obama describes the manufacturing institutes in his weekly address as "a partnership between companies, colleges, and the federal government focused on making sure American businesses and American workers win the race for high-tech manufacturing and the jobs that come with it - jobs that can help people and communities willing to work hard punch their ticket into the middle class."
This is the second manufacturing institute the first opened last year in Ohio, and will be called "The Next Generation Power Electronics Institute" and to be located in NCSU's Centennial Campus, and funded with $140 million, half $70 million provided by the Department of Energy and the remaining $70 million will be provided by universities, companies involved and North Carolina's government.
President Obama explained these institutes will give the U.S. an economic edge on "high tech jobs"; "The country that figures out how to do this first, and the companies that figure out how to do this best, they're going to be the ones that attract the jobs that go with them." The President is looking to create 45 "hubs" likes this institute, however, after funding the first three; Congress will be required to allocate funds to establish the remainder. President Obama first introduced the initiative in his 2013 State of the Union, and has been trying to keep his promises gearing up to his 2014 address to be given on Jan. 28.
President Obama spent some time in his speech to urge Congress to stop stalling and pass the unemployment benefits extension, telling them to "do the right thing and extend this vital lifeline." Elaborating how important the benefits are especially for North Carolinians Obama expressed; "Let me just make an aside here. North Carolina still has a higher-than-average unemployment rate, so this is important to this state. Folks aren't looking for a handout. … People need support, a little help, so they can look after their families while they are looking for a new job." On Dec. 28, 2013 1.3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans will lose benefits.
The unemployment benefits extension stalled in the Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 15 after it failed with a vote of 55-45, unable move to the next stage since it could not muster the 60 votes needed, including the support of five Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV stated; "I am disappointed that we couldn't work something out." The Senate bipartisan plan would have extend unemployment benefits for another three months. Sens. Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-R.I. are the authors and sponsors of the extension plan; the Heller-Reed bill.
The Senate has a bipartisan plan which would extend unemployment benefits for another three months. Sens. Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-R.I. are the authors and sponsors of the extension plan; the Heller-Reed bill. The President approves of the short-term plan and would sign such a bill if it passes the House and Senate.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act would cost $6.5 billion, but Heller and Reed did not outline how the costly extension would be paid for, besides contributing further to the deficit. However, Reid refused to cover the costs of the bill when only extended for three months and tried to bribe the Republicans in agreeing to a nine month extension, where Democrats would agree to spending cuts to cover the costs, however Republicans balked at the plan.
During the 2008 recession when Republican George W. Bush was President the government enlarged the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that the states give. During the recession the "combined" state and federal benefits gave unemployed Americans 99 weeks of relief. The federal government provides "47 weeks" of extended benefits averaging "$300 a week."
The Heller-Reed extension bill has stalled in the Senate after it passed its first protocol vote on Tuesday, Jan. 7 which moved it beyond the cloture stage. Republicans have objected primarily to extending the benefits based on the extension's price tag with the Democrats not balancing it out with spending cuts, and because they believe it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits.
Speaking in his weekly address entitled "Making 2014 a Year of Action to Expand Opportunities for the Middle Class" President Obama stated his speech and visit to Raleigh, North Carolina was "part of my push not only to make America home to more high-tech manufacturing - but to make America more attractive for the good jobs that a growing middle class requires."
Obama also boasted about his administration's economic accomplishments; "We generate more renewable energy than ever, and more natural gas than anybody. Health care costs are growing at their slowest rate in 50 years - due in part to the Affordable Care Act. And since I took office, we've cut our deficits by more than half." However, Obama believes the time is right to create jobs and improve the economy even more continuing his "year of action" theme; "So we are primed to bring back more of the good jobs claimed by the recession, and lost to overseas competition in recent decades. But that requires a year of action. And I want to work with Congress this year on proven ways to create jobs, like building infrastructure and fixing our broken immigration system."
President Obama's main message in his weekly address was again calling out the do nothing 113th Congress and Republicans, promising to take the initiative for the economy where he can even without Congress' help as he stated in North Carolina; "Where Congress isn't acting, I'll act on my own to put opportunity within reach for anyone who's willing to work for it." Obama concluded; "I firmly believe that this can be a breakthrough year for America. But to make that happen, we're gonna have to act - to create good jobs that pay good wages, and to offer more Americans a fair shot to get ahead. That's what I'm focused on every day that I have the privilege of serving as your president. That's what I'm going to be focused on every single day of this year."
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Making 2014 a Year of Action to Expand Opportunities for the Middle Class, Jan. 18, 2014 -- Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3
- President Barack Obama's speech on the economy at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, Jan. 15, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.