Selling the Stimulus in Elkhart, Ind.

Feb 9, 2009 2:41pm

ABC News’ Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller Report from Elkhart, Ind.:

President Barack Obama took his economic stimulus pitch on the road today, with a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where he warned that the recession could deepen if the government does not act fast.

"The situation we face could not be more serious," the president told a crowd of 1,700 packed into Concord Community High School’s gymnasium. "More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse."

The president is trying to push Congress to pass his economic stimulus plan, and today he warned that, "Endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will bring only deepening disaster."

The president told the crowd that once passed, the money would be released "quickly and wisely." He touted his administration’s website, which will give people the ability to track stimulus spending. "Understand that this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size," Obama said.  That line drew applause.

As to the size of the bill, President Obama says he wants to see more money for education funding. "I’ll be honest with you, the Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars. I would like to see some of them restored," Mr. Obama said. 

With the closure of local recreational vehicle manufacturing plants, this part of Indiana has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. Unemployment in the region has hit 15.3 percent, more than twice the national average. 

One of those residents out of work is Byron Gilbert of South Bend, who lost his job at an auto manufacturing plant last year and has been working odd jobs to support his family.

"The numbers are real. It just keeps getting worse every day," Gilbert said, shaking his head. "You can’t open a newspaper, watch any of the news broadcasts without seeing devastating results of this economy. When you think of thousands of people getting laid off at one time you wonder, where’s it gonna end?"

The president took eight questions in a back and forth that lasted just under 40 minutes. One of them drew boos from the crowd when a young woman who identified herself as Tara said, "You’ve come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your Cabinet are not trustworthy and can’t handle their own budget and taxes."

The crowd booed, but the president proceeded to answer saying that that the criticism was "legitimate" because, "you can’t expect one set of folks to not pay their taxes when everybody else is paying theirs."  However, Obama defended his tax-troubled nominees, saying he believes they made honest mistakes. "If you’re not going to appoint anybody who’s ever made a mistake in your life, then you’re not going to have anybody taking your jobs," he said.

In answering a question about home foreclosures, Obama also took a not-so-subtle hit at former rival Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., "If you are like most people, including me, and you’ve got one house," he said with a smile. " Now, keep in mind, the house that I’m in, in D.C., I’m just borrowing that. That’s the people’s house."  Last August, when asked by a reporter how many homes he owned, Sen. McCain could not remember.

Obama worked the rope line briefly before leaving to fly back to Washington D.C. Many in the crowd wore Obama t-shirts and hats, though outside there were a few signs of dissent. A small group of protestors waved pink pig-shaped signs that read, "Obama Pelosi Reid = Pork" and "Don’t Enslave Our Children with Your Pork."

– Yunji de Nies & Sunlen Miller

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