Telling residents of Peosta, Iowa that small towns hold the key to economic recovery, President Obama today announced a series of initiatives aimed at increasing the number of jobs in rural America. The president said the new initiatives are steps the administration can take without consulting Congress -- but he pressed citizens to call on Congress to accomplish more.
"I've been traveling through these small towns and talking to folks, sitting down at diners, and you listen to people," the president said. "You do your part. You meet your obligations. Well, it's time Washington acted as responsibly as you do every single day. It's past time."
On the second day of a three-day tour across the Midwest, the president hosted a rural economic forum at Northeast Iowa Community College. The economic comeback, Mr. Obama said, "isn't going to be driven by Washington. It is going to be driven by folks here in Iowa... It's going to start on the ranchlands and farms of the Midwest, in the workshops of basement inventors, in the storefronts of small- business owners."
But, he added, "the rural economy is still not as strong as it could be."
For that reason, Mr. Obama said his administration is ratcheting up efforts to get capital to small businesses in rural areas and increasing its commitment to small-business lending programs.
"We're going to make it easier for people in rural areas looking for work to find out about companies that are hiring," he said. "We're going to do more to speed the development of next-generation biofuels. And we're going to promote renewable energy and conservation."
On a conference call today, administration officials described a new joint program to produce new-generation biofuels using homegrown, U.S. feedstocks. Three departments -- the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Navy -- will each kick in $170 million to the program, for total of $510 million over three years.
The fuels will first be produced for aviation and marine use by the Navy and then for commercial use. The departments will work with the private sector on the program, which requires no new federal funding -- the funding will come from redirecting existing appropriations.
Mr. Obama said today in Iowa that the new initiatives will be accomplished by simply re-allocating resources.
"But we could do even more if Congress is willing to get in the game," he said. The only thing standing in the way, he said, "is the refusal of a faction in Congress to put country ahead of party, and that has to stop. Our economy cannot afford it."
As the president sells his economic policies to the Midwest, his Republican opponents are tearing them down, blaming the president for the stalled economy. As Mr. Obama was speaking in Peosta today, the newest Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry was just about 10 miles away in Dubuque, holding his own economic roundtable with business leaders.