ELYRIA — President Barack Obama swept into Lorain County on Friday and delivered a fiery speech promising to continue his fight to reform health care and to keep working to deliver jobs to help restore the area’s devastated economy.
Fresh off the bruising defeat Tuesday in which Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley to claim late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts and imperil the health care bill and his domestic agenda, Obama took to the dais and delivered a speech in which he sounded more like a presidential candidate than a sitting president with three years to go in his first term.
He recounted what he faced in the first year — the worst economy since the Great Depression, the bailout of the banks, and the bailout of two of the Big Three automakers. He said with all of that, health care reform — a promise he made on the campaign trail — should be set aside, some of his political advisers told him.
“But I’m trying to solve the problems that folks here in Ohio and across this country face every day,” Obama said. “And I’m not going to walk away just because it’s hard. We are going to keep on working to get this done – with Democrats, I hope with Republicans – anybody who’s willing to step up. Because I’m not going to watch more people get crushed by costs or denied care they need by insurance company bureaucrats.
“… So long as I have some breath in me, so long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I will not stop fighting for you. I will take my lumps, but I won’t stop fighting to bring back jobs here. I won’t stop fighting for an economy where hard work is rewarded. I won’t stop fighting to make sure there’s accountability in our financial system. I’m not going to stop fighting until we have jobs for everybody.”
More than once, Obama had to pause when he was interrupted by applause from the audience of roughly 1,200 people filling the Ewing Field House at Lorain County Community College, which played host for the president’s second stop on his “White House to Main Street” tour. The president’s visit brought out many of the area’s political leaders, as well as residents and college students who stood in line for hours Wednesday to secure tickets to the event.
The president bookended the town hall forum by visiting two local businesses, EMC Precision Manufacturing and Riddell, eating lunch with Elyria Mayor Bill Grace at Smitty’s, taking a tour of the wind turbine program and the Fab Lab at LCCC and having numerous other quick-hit meetings with area leaders eager to bend the president’s ear.
During his speech, Obama used EMC’s plight — a family-owned business whose precision work can’t be outsourced to countries like China — to illustrate how devastating the recession has been on businesses. There, the company’s work force has been cut nearly in half, he said.
“The good news is they’re starting to see orders pick up just a little bit,” he said. “But it’s tough. Folks have seen jobs you thought would last forever disappear. You’ve seen plants close and businesses shut down. I’ve heard about how the city government here is starting to cut into bone, not just fat. You can’t get to work or go buy groceries like you used to because of cuts in the county transit system. And this all comes after one of the toughest decades our middle class has faced in generations.”
He acknowledged that the federal efforts to recover from the recession haven’t had enough impact in areas like Elyria and Lorain. Jobs are too scarce — Ohio’s unemployment rate for December rose to 10.9 percent — but he emphasized capitalizing on the area’s manufacturing history by focusing job growth on green technology such as wind turbines and batteries.
Already, Elyria has benefited in that the government has earmarked nearly $25 million to the construction of a lithium ion battery plant at the BASF plant, he said.
“That’s what we’re going to keep on doing for the rest of 2010, 2011 and 2012, until we’ve got this country working again,” he said.
Obama hit a variety of other topics — improving education, creating a transparent and open government, ending government waste and abuse, eliminating payouts to banks to handle students loans and using that money to make more college aid available and collecting fees from Wall Street for government aid — all with the same mantra: “I’m not going to stop fighting.”
“Now these are some of the fights we’ve already had, and I can promise you there will be more fights ahead,” Obama said. “I’m not going to win every round.”
After Obama wrapped up his speech, he opened the floor to questions and eight people — including 83-year-old Joann Eichenlaub, who wasn’t happy that Congress received a raise while Social Security recipients were denied a cost-of-living adjustment. Nor did she look favorably on the government’s decision to exclude seniors from the initial rounds of H1N1 vaccinations.
Eichenlaub, a Republican who years ago made an unsuccessful bid to be Elyria’s mayor, got a laugh from the audience and the president, nonetheless.
“I’m 83 years old. I know I don’t look it,” she said by way of introduction.
Obama said a Congressional approved one-time payment of $250 to seniors nearly was the equivalent of a cost-of-living increase.
“So we didn’t forget the seniors,” he said. “We never forget the seniors because they vote at very high rates. Not to mention you changed our diapers and things.”