Obama touts economic recovery in visit to Austin area

By WAYNE SLATER Senior Political Writer wslater@dallasnews.com
Published: 09 May 2013 12:40 PM
Updated: 09 May 2013 11:30 PM

MANOR, Texas — President Barack Obama came to Texas on Thursday to tout the economic recovery and pressure Congress, saying, “Terrific things are going on in communities all across America,” but you wouldn’t know it from Washington obstruction.

Traveling to the heart of a state that bounced back quicker than many after the deep recession, Obama said the government has a role in fostering policies to encourage innovation, improve education and help assure middle-class jobs and opportunity.

But, he said, “if you listen to all the doom and gloom in Washington, the politics, watching cable TV, you think nothing’s going right. But the truth is there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about where we’re heading as a country after the tough times we’ve been through after the last several years.”

Obama was greeted by a half-page ad in the Austin newspaper from Gov. Rick Perry that tweaked the president, saying the lesson he should take from Texas is that economic success is the product of low taxes, light regulation and protecting businesses from lawsuits.

By coming to Texas, Obama sought to highlight that the economy is improving under his tenure. He also depicted his Republican critics, including Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator, as the face of the Washington opposition, amid signs that his legislative agenda may be stalling early in his second term.

High school visit

Speaking to students, teachers and parents at Manor New Technology High School, the president called on Texans to press their elected officials to work across the aisle on creating jobs, boosting education and raising the minimum wage as part of “a caucus of common sense.”

“We’re poised for progress,” he said. “Part of our challenge, though, is you’ve got to try to see the same kind of seriousness of purpose in your leaders. From Washington to Wall Street, all of us have to commit ourselves to doing better than we’re doing now.”

In Washington, Cruz issued a statement saying Obama could learn a lot from the state’s low taxes and limited government. “Texas has shown the country how it’s done,” Cruz said.

Debates over gun control and immigration have occupied Washington in recent months. The Texas trip is the first of several the president plans to remind the public that he hasn’t forgotten about the issues that concern them the most: the economy and jobs.

Obama framed his stops at an innovative high school and the nation’s largest chip-machine maker as a way to highlight models for creating an educated workforce to boost employment.

Texas also has the second-highest Hispanic population in the country, an attractive demographic group for Democrats and a key audience for Obama as he also pushes for an overhaul of immigration laws.

At the Manor school, where students are mostly low-income and minority, Obama reiterated his push for college affordability and expanded preschool, both of which are points he made during his State of the Union speech this year.

In addition to visiting the high school, Obama sat down with middle-income families for lunch at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin to talk about jobs and toured Applied Materials, an Austin high-tech company whose products help make goods such as smartphones, flat-screen TVs and solar panels more affordable.

Democrats see Texas, the nation’s most Republican big state, as ripe for a political makeover in the next few years, largely because of the explosive growth of the Hispanic population. Latinos vote disproportionately Democratic.

Several former Obama campaign operatives have relocated and formed Battleground Texas, a long-term campaign plan aimed at turning Texas blue. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday’s trip wasn’t related to any political effort to transform Texas into a Democratic state.

Making the round of radio talk shows Thursday, Perry dismissed the prospects of Democrats turning the state blue anytime soon.

“The idea that a president or anyone else will turn Texas from a freedom-loving state to one that depends on government — not going to happen,” Perry said on KTRH-AM in Houston.

Acting alone

Obama used the trip to announce that even without the cooperation of Republicans, the White House was ready to act alone.

He said he plans to launch a competition to create three Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, partnerships among businesses, universities and government to help U.S.-based manufacturers and workers create good jobs.

Although the president’s initiatives to raise the minimum wage, boost job-training and expand early-childhood education face difficult odds in Washington, aides to the president believe trips like the one to Austin are important to keep the pressure on Republicans and show Americans he’s engaged on policies to help the middle class.

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