Obama Attacks on Economy and Seeks Billions for Community Colleges

After spending last week abroad, Mr. Obama made clear that he was
renewing his focus on his domestic agenda, delivering a campaign-style
speech that sought to beat back Republican efforts to capitalize on the
public uneasiness with the economy.

“I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, ‘Well, this is
Obama’s economy,’ ” the president said before an overwhelmingly supportive outdoor crowd at Macomb Community College. “That’s fine — give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe.”

The jab was not included in his prepared remarks, which focused on an announcement that the administration was proposing to spend $12 billion to bolster the nation’s network of community colleges.

Community colleges are heavily attended by working adults, some seeking new expertise, others remedial instruction on the way to four-year college.

So the administration’s proposal should have particular resonance in places like Warren, a Detroit suburb that has experienced heavy layoffs related to the
slowdown in the automobile industry and the administration-sponsored
restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. Those factors have helped give Michigan the nation’s highest unemployment rate, at more than 14 percent.

Many laid-off workers are seeking new skills and new career paths under the
assumption that, as Mr. Obama said Tuesday, “the hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won’t be coming back.”

Mr. Obama was met here by an editorial in The Detroit News titled, “Obama’s Stimulus Plan Is Not Working," and another in The Detroit Free Press with a headline reading, “Above All, Mr. President, Michigan Needs Promise of Jobs.”

The Free Press editorial said the president’s new community college plan was “not a
bad idea on its face,” but added skeptically, “Michigan has emphasized job retraining for months, if not years now — and yet people keep losing their jobs.”

Amid nervous chatter from fellow Democrats and saber rattling by Republicans, who gleefully sent the local editorials to reporters covering the president here Tuesday, Mr.
Obama’s aides said he would spend the coming days seeking to regain control of the debate by urging patience.

In his remarks, the president himself acknowledged that job training was not a “silver
bullet.” But he said his new proposal, hailed as significant by education advocates, would greatly increase the number of people who earn the sort of two-year associate’s degree that emloyers increasingly demand.

“In the coming years,” Mr. Obama said, “jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. We will not fill those jobs, or keep those jobs on our shores, without the training offered by
community colleges.”

Most of the $12 billion in Mr. Obama’s plan would go toward programs enticing community colleges to do more to lift graduation rates and better prepare students for jobs. Some would go to the modernizing of facilities as well, and some to the
development of an Internet curriculum available to students everywhere.

Officials said that over the next 12 years, the plan would increase the number of community college graduates by a total of five million beyond the number who would graduate without it.

The new federal money would be spent over the course of a decade, starting with the fiscal year that begins in October. Officials said the cost of the legislation would be covered by savings from the president’s plan to end the role of private banks in the federal education lending system.

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who heads the House Education and Labor Committee, said Tuesday that he would incorporate the
president’s community college plan into the student loan bill, which Mr. Miller expects to introduce on Wednesday.

The loan legislation is facing an intense lobbying campaign by banks, making it one of several tough initiatives Mr. Obama is trying to push through Congress before the August recess.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Obama lashed out at critics who have said he is taking on
too many hard fights in his first year as president, including health care and environmental overhauls that would drastically change government policy.

But here, the No. 1 subject is his auto industry overhaul, and his remarks were sprinkled with a defense of his approach to reworking Chrysler and General Motors.

“After a painful period of soul-searching and sacrifice,” he said, “both
companies have emerged from bankruptcy — far faster than some thought
possible — with a leaner structure, new management and a viable vision
of how to compete and win in the 21st century.” (New York Times)

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