President Barack Obama visited Racine Wednesday, holding a town hall meeting to discuss economic recovery efforts as well as financial reform and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The trip was part of Obama’s “Recovery Summer” public relations campaign to draw attention to the administration’s attempts to reverse the recession and to address other issues such as the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Obama acknowledged during the meeting that although economic relief is on its way to the lives of most people, it’s not breaking any sound barriers getting there.
“The economy is headed in the right direction. But for a lot of Americans — for Racine and a lot of other communities — it’s not heading there fast enough,” Obama said. “Not if you’re out of work. Not if you can’t pay the mortgage. Not if you can’t take care of your family.”
Racine has the second highest unemployment rate in Wisconsin, 9.4 percent, exceeded only by Janesville at 10.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Wisconsin has a lower statewide unemployment rate, 8.2 percent, than the national average.
Obama outlined the steps his administration has taken to reverse the economic recession as well as further provisions to stem job loss, including extending unemployment benefits, increasing small business loans and providing state relief to protect civil service jobs.
Obama also criticized Republicans in Congress who have fought to delay financial regulation reform, specifically Republican House of Representatives leader John Boehner, who recently compared proposed financial reform legislation to “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon” during a television interview.
A spokesperson for the Republican Party later attempted to clarify the comment as merely a critique of the legislation itself.
“It’s clear Boehner is not minimizing the crisis America faced — he is pointing out that Washington Democrats have produced a bill that will actually kill more jobs and make the situation worse,” said RNC Chairman Michael Steele in a statement Tuesday.
In Racine, however, Obama remained unconvinced.
“He can’t be that out of touch with the struggles of American families. And if he is, then he’s got to come here to Racine and ask people what they think. ,” Obama said.
Obama claimed the stiff criticism coming from the Republican side of the aisle in Congress is not helping solve any problems, whether in preventing a future Wall Street crisis or in cleaning up the BP oil spill.
However, Charles Franklin, political science professor at University of Wisconsin, believes Obama may have been overzealous in praising the economic successes of his administration. Although Obama has succeeded in recovering a number of Wisconsin jobs, it may be too early for him to claim the level of victory he seemed to be referencing during the town hall meeting, Franklin said.
“He faces a real political dilemma,” Franklin said. “He has to make the claim that things are improving and given time will get still better. But the rate of new jobs and growth of income is still slow enough that it’s very hard for him to make too grand of claims of his accomplishments.”
Nevertheless, the administration’s attempts to reverse the recession were definitely visible during the president’s visit. Obama’s motorcade traveled south along I-94 to reach Racine, passing construction projects along both sides of the highway that are funded largely by the National Recovery Act.
Still, the president found time to get a taste of Racine during his visit. Before the town hall meeting, Obama stopped at O and H Danish Bakery to buy kringles. He chose pecan, cherry and cheese.