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Obama touts steps to boost US trade

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President Barack Obama gives a speech Feb. 17, 2012 on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner assembly line in Everett, Washington. Obama's visit included a tour of the plant and fundraisers elsewhere in the Puget Sound.

EVERETT, Wash. –  With a giant 787 Dreamliner jet as his backdrop, President Obama said the government needs to do more to spur American manufacturing exports as Boeing has with its planes.

In his last appearance on a three-day trip, Obama unveiled a set of new proposals aimed at giving American manufacturers a better competitive edge against foreign companies.

"We've gotta make sure we're making it easier for companies like Boeing to create jobs here at home and sell our products abroad," Obama said, addressing workers at Boeing's cavernous plant in Everett, Wash., noting that "business is booming" for the company, which hired 13,000 people nationwide last year.

Several of Obama's new initiatives would be funded through the Import-Export bank, which Congress authorized to continue lending up to $100 billion to businesses  through May 2012. But the White House contends that the bank could hit that limit as early as the end of March because of "unprecedented demands for export financing in recent years."

Friday, Obama urged Congress to reauthorize the bank's authority, noting that it would fund, among others, a new program that would finance small businesses looking to increase exports.

"That's why it's so important for Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank," Obama said, noting that its director, Fred Hochburg, was in the audience. "It helps companies like Boeing, as well as thousands of small businesses."

While Obama urged Congress to act on his new proposals, he praised lawmakers for passing today an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, a bill that had been met with strong opposition from House and Senate Republicans.

"I want to thank Congress for listening to the voices of the American people," he said. "It is amazing what happens when Congress focuses on doing the right thing instead of just playing politics."

"This was a good example, and Congress should take pride in it."

Before he spoke today, Obama toured the Boeing plant and the Dreamliner jet, at one point marveling at a feature that darkens the cabin's no-shade windows at the turn of a switch.

"This is pretty spiffy," Obama said to the group of Boeing executives, employees and reporters that accompanied him on the tour.

During the speech, Obama seemed to refer to the Dreamliner as an example of what government-funded research can produce, noting that the plane was first designed using virtual technology that was developed by NASA.

"Government research helped to create this plane," he said.

President Obama's appearance at the plant comes just weeks after the National Labor Relations Board  withdrew a 10-month complaint against Boeing after it relocated a plant from Seattle, to South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

The NLRB had claimed Boeing had moved the facility "to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity," but dropped its complaint in December after the Boeing union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, agreed to a four-year contract extension stipulating that Boeing builds its 737 MAX jet in Washington.

The flap played heavily into the Republican presidential primary, especially in South Carolina, where candidates routinely slammed the NLRB's lawsuit as an infringement of state sovereignty.

In the run-up to the first-in-the-South's Jan. 21 primary, Mitt Romney released an ad calling Obama's NLRB appointees "union stooges."

"The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, 'You can't build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a right-to-work state.' That is simply un-American," Romney said in the ad, released Jan.  5.

Despite the recent political controversy surrounding Boeing's labor issues, the White House insisted that Obama's trip here today had nothing to do with the recently-settled NLRB dispute.

"This trip has everything to do with the president's focus on manufacturing and on increasing our exports and nothing to do" with the issue, press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

After the speech, President Obama was scheduled to appear at two campaign events in Seattle; the last of eight fundraisers scheduled during his three-day trip.