AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Aiming to show he’s still focused on creating jobs, President Barack Obama is beginning a series of quick trips around the country to resurrect ideas from his State of the Union address that became overshadowed by the intense debates over gun control, immigration and automatic spending cuts.
Obama on Thursday dropped in on Austin, Texas, and was using that bustling state capital as a backdrop to talk about attracting jobs, providing skills training and ensuring that hard work begets a decent living.
The trip was an opportunity to make his case for his more ambitious jobs agenda — one that has faced stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers — and to offer more modest initiatives that don’t need congressional action.
Among those administrative actions is a plan to launch a competition to create three new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, partnerships among businesses, universities and government to help U.S.-based manufacturers and workers create good jobs. Five federal agencies — the Defense, Energy and Commerce departments, NASA and the National Science Foundation — are putting $200 million toward the effort.
“We believe that manufacturing is worthy of that priority because it punches above its weight economically,” said Gene Sperling, director of Obama’s National Economic Council.
For Obama, it was his second trip to Texas in two weeks. He was greeted at the foot of Air Force One by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, a critic of Obama’s polices. The two men chatted as they walked across the tarmac.
The president argued in February’s State of the Union address that an economy that is growing and creating well-paying middle-class jobs must be the guiding principle for Washington policymakers. He proposed a broad expansion of pre-kindergarten to accommodate every 4-year-old, calling it a smart investment that will help improve educational outcomes, along with raising the federal minimum wage to $9 to help working families. Both ideas almost immediately faced resistance from some lawmakers who said the proposals cost too much and could stunt the economy, and Obama has barely discussed either proposal since then.
At the time of the speech, the debate over gun-control legislation was heating up following the December massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school. A bipartisan group of senators was drafting a sweeping immigration bill desired by both political parties, and Congress and the White House were blaming each other for $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that would kick in March 1.
The series of field trips Obama begins Thursday marks an attempt by the president to remind the public that he hasn’t forgotten about the issues that concern them the most: the economy and jobs. The outing also comes amid questions about whether the second-term president has enough sway to get his agenda through a divided Congress before attention turns to the November 2014 midterm elections.
Since his second inauguration, Obama has lost a bid to expand background checks for gun buyers and was similarly unsuccessful at getting lawmakers to undo the spending cuts. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin considering and voting on scores of proposed changes to the immigration bill, which is facing opposition from conservatives, religious leaders and others.
His jobs proposals have stalled in Congress, with Republicans showing no interest in job-creation plans based on new federal spending. They also argue that Obama’s regulatory regime and new health care law — the president’s signature domestic policy achievement to date — are hindering more robust job growth.
“The president doesn’t seem to understand that it’s his policies that are undermining economic growth and job creation,” House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday as the president departed.