At Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Ind., Monday at noon ET, President Obama will deliver brief remarks and then take questions from the audience of approximately 1,700 locals in a town hall meeting devised to sell the stimulus package.
Elkhart County — a Republican bastion that Obama lost 44 percent to 56 percent last November, despite his impressive feat of winning the Hoosier State — has seen its unemployment rate triple in the last year, from 4.7 percent last year to its current rate of 15.3 percent. (The city of Elkhart has an unemployment rate approaching 18 percent.)
Elkhart County has 16,000 total people unemployed and has lost 8,000 jobs in the past year, many of them layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry. RV manufacturers Keystone RV Co., Monaco Coach Corp., and Pilgrim International have laid off hundreds of workers, and dealers have been forced to close down. Quite logically, as the economy has soured, fewer Americans are buying RVs.
Tickets for the town hall were snapped up on Saturday within 40 minutes.
The president will fly on Air Force One Monday morning, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from neighboring Illinois; Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., one of the 16 centrist senators who recently helped negotiate changes to the stimulus bill; as well as Elkhart’s congressman, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., all of whom voted for the stimulus package.
Two opponents of the bill will also be on board: Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., one of just 11 House Democrats to oppose it; and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., a close friend of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who voted against the bill but has been working with the White House on adding a business tax cut provision. Elkhart is on the Michigan border, in an area called Michiana, and Upton has been a frequent guest in the Obama White House, having been invited for the bipartisan Super Bowl Party and the bill signing for the expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.
Former Indiana Democratic Congressmen Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer will also be on board. Conspicuously absent: Obama friend Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., whom Senate Democrats and the White House have been lobbying to support the bill.
Obama will be introduced at the event by Ed Neufeldt, a 62-year-old unemployed RV worker from Elkhart who has two young children, 13 and 7, and is currently surviving on unemployment insurance.
According to the Elkhart Truth newspaper, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore has a list of 18 shovel-ready infrastructure projects that he estimates would cost $92.4 million and create 2,300 jobs, such as a $34.3 million railroad overpass along Prairie Street, $17 million for Elco Theater renovations, and $10.92 million for Elkhart Community Schools.
The White House claims that the stimulus package would create or save 79,300 jobs in Indiana over the next two years; provide an income tax credit of up to $1,000 for 2,480,000 workers and their families; create a new $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for four years of college for 76,000 Indiana families; offer an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 456,000 unemployed Indianans and extend unemployment benefits to an additional 89,000; and provide funds to modernize at least 176 Indiana schools.