MANITOWOC, WI -- The day after delivering a State of the Union speech that seemed aimed at middle America, President Obama stopped here in this Midwest town on the shores of Lake Michigan to visit three firms the White House says embody his message of innovation and competitiveness.
Obama was here to tour Orion, a company that makes energy-efficient and renewable-energy technology, as well as aluminum manufacturer Skana and Broadwind Towers, a wind turbine tower maker. The visit is meant to amplify the argument he made in the House chamber last night -- that a country that "out-educates" and "out-innovates" others can better compete in the global economy.
"We need to make sure American workers can go head-to-head with every other country on Earth," he told the crowd at Orion, after touring the plant.
Obama went on to say that staying competitive means rebuilding the nation's roads and bridges and investing in high-speed Internet access for all and cutting wasteful, excessive spending "wherever we find it."
The president has long been focused on improving education, spurring innovation, and encouraging investment in infrastructure and clean energy to help lay a strong foundation for economic growth. Today, he spoke about steps his administration has taken to help businesses -- including grants to encourage companies to use renewable energy, the Small Business Act aimed at helping small businesses get more access to credit as banks slowly boost lending and the tax cut bill he signed in December, which includes tax incentives to promote business investment -- all moves that have helped the companies he visited here grow.
"The jobs you're creating here, the growth you've achieved, has come, I know, through hard work and ingenuity and a single-minded focus on being the best at what you do," he said. "This company has also been supported over the years not just by the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration, but by tax credits and awards we created to give a leg up to renewable energy companies."
The broad, non-ideological vision the president spelled out last night seemed directed at winning the hearts and minds of voters who want to see Democrats and Republicans work together to tackle the deficit, the tax code and high health-care costs. While he defended the health-care overhaul, Obama also said he was open to ways to improve it. He also spoke about reforming the tax code, reorganizing government, and banning earmarks -- issues with broad Republican support -- as other areas important to strengthening America's foundation.
"Here in America we play to win; we don't play not to lose," Obama said. "Part of what I wanted to communicate last night is: Having gone through a tough time, having gone through a recession, having seen so many jobs lost, having seen the financial markets take a swoon, you get a sense that a lot of folks have been feeling like 'well, we've just gotta play not to lose.' We can't take that attitude."
Obama's emphasis on "winning the future" includes efforts to rein in government spending responsibly. Last night, he proposed a five-year freeze in annual domestic spending that he says will cut $400 billion from the deficit over the next decade. While critics say the president was too vague about his agenda -- how he would reach the goals he has laid out and what specific programs he would cut -- the White House says many of those details will be included in the budget for fiscal year 2012, set for release in mid-February.
The vice president was set to travel to Greenfield, IN today to an advanced battery plant where he planned to outline the president's new plan to reach an ambitious goal of making the United States the first country in the world to put 1 million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015.