ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Andy Fies report:
Describing the Chrysler factory as once “dark and empty," President Obama today trumpeted the success of the Kokomo, Indiana factory, now at full capacity, holding it up as a “shining example” of the auto industry’s recovery since the federal bailout.
“Even as we continue to face serious challenges, what's happening here at this plant, the changes we're seeing throughout Kokomo, are signs of hope and confidence in the future, in our future, together,” Obama said from the floor of the Chrysler factory this afternoon. “You’re showing us the way forward. You're living up to that spirit of optimism and determination, that grit that's always been at the heart of who we are as a people, at the heart of America.”
The Kokomo plant two years ago had plummeting production, and had to lay off many of their workers. With the federal government’s bailout the plant is back at full capacity, and hiring workers. Kokomo's unemployment has gone from a staggering 20% in June of 2009 to 12% as of this fall. Implicit in the president’s message today was just short of an “I told you so,” to those who didn’t think the bailout of the auto industry was the right step to take. To them, President Obama addressed head on today.
“There were those who were prepared to give up on Kokomo and our auto industry. There were those who said it was going to be too difficult, or that it was bad politics, or it was throwing good money after bad. You remember the voices arguing for us to do nothing. They were pretty loud, suggesting we should just step back and watch an entire sector of our economy fall apart.”
The president said that he made the “tough decision,” to stand behind the auto industry, and that he now said has proven to be paying off.
“We made the decision to stand with you because we had confidence in the American worker more than anything. And today we know that was the right decision. We know that was the right decision.”
More broadly speaking the president heralded the Big Three automakers recovery as well, hailing that for the first time in over a decade Americans are buying a larger share of Chrysler, Ford, and GM cars and a smaller share of their foreign counterparts.
“All three American companies are profitable, and they are growing,” Obama said, “So here's the lesson. Don't bet against America. Don't bet against the American auto industry. Don't bet against American ingenuity. Don't bet against the American worker. Don't bet against it.”
Bringing up the bipartisan summit scheduled for next Tuesday from the White House, the president called for Democrats and Republicans to work together to better the economy, and work on tax cuts, in order to “make it easier, not harder, for middle-class families to get ahead.
“If we don't act by the end of the year, a typical middle-class family will wake up on January 1st to a tax increase of $3,000 per year,” he warned. “So in the next few weeks, I'm asking Congress to take up this issue…we ought to resolve this issue in the next couple of weeks, so you've got the assurance that, you know, your taxes won't go up when the clock strikes midnight. “
The president said he is “eager” to sit down with leaders from both parties next week to discuss this.
“But we need to hammer it out,” he said.
While in Kokomo President Obama and Vice President Biden made three local stops in the area, to an elementary school, to the Gingerbread House Bakery (where the president ordered apple fritters and pecan rolls), and also ate lunch with firefighters who had been laid off but had their jobs back due to a FEMA grant.
-Sunlen Miller and Andy Fies