With or without Congress, Obama pledges to boost manufacturing

Looking for ways to get his agenda back on track, President Obama pledged again Wednesday that, “where I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so.”

He echoed his remarks at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, when he pointedly said he’s not going to wait for Congress “to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help that they need,” and vowed to sign executive orders to move his agenda forward.

Wednesday, the president was at North Carolina State University to talk about manufacturing and announce Raleigh, N.C., as the as the site of the first of three high-tech manufacturing hubs that will bring together the university, manufacturing companies and end-users to develop new, state-of-the-art power electronics.

It follows on a pledge he made in his 2013 State of the Union address to create these hubs, which will build on existing resources. At the time, he committed $200 million in federal funds from five different agencies. Two more institutes focused on digital manufacturing and design innovation, and lightweight and modern metals manufacturing will be announced in the coming weeks.

These type of public-private partnerships represent one of the ways for Mr. Obama to work around a divided Congress that has been steadfastly opposed to much of his agenda. The administration has launched  a “year of action,” and it sounds like much of the action will be from the president circumventingcongressional Republicans.

“Long term the challenge of making sure that everybody who works hard can get ahead in today’s economy is so important that we can’t wait for Congress to solve it,” he said. “Today I’m here to act to help make Raleigh-Durham, and America, a magnet for the good, high-tech manufacturing jobs that a growing middle class requires and that are going to continue to keep this country on the cutting edge.” 

He also scolded lawmakers for their failure to extend emergency unemployment benefits, which expired on Dec. 28. “One thing Congress could do is listen to the majority of the American people and restore the unemployment insurance for Americans who need it,” he said, noting that North Carolina’s higher-than-average unemployment rate makes it especially important in that state.

“Folks aren’t looking for a handout. They’re not looking for special treatment,” he said.

He did invite Congress to work with him on economic issues, including expanding the manufacturing hub program from 15 to 45. But Congress hasn’t even passed legislation to create 15 hubs, meaning it might be a reach.

Still, he’s hoping that manufacturing is one bright spot where executive action can keep an upward trend going. Mr. Obama noted that manufacturers have added 550,000 new jobs in the last four years, including almost 80,000 in the last five months.

Overtones of politics crept into the visit after North Carolina’s Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, skipped the trip citing congressional business. Republicans have alleged it is an effort to distance herself from President Obama and his high unpopularity numbers ahead of her 2014 reelection.

That didn't stop the president from praising her, however. "Sen. Kay Hagan couldn't be here but I wanted to thank her, publicly, for the great work she's been doing."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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