Obama Hits Republican States in Post-Speech Highlights Tour

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Obama's 2016 State of the Union in Three Minutes
  • Nebraska, Louisiana illustrate economic issues Obama cited
  • `No one ever benefited by betting against America,' Obama says

President Barack Obamatouted Nebraska’s unemployment rate of less than 3 percent as evidence that America’s economy has rebounded under his leadership as he kicked off his post-State-of-the-Union address tour and the final year of his presidency.

"No one ever benefited by betting against America," Obama told a crowd of about 11,000 people Wednesday at an arena at the University of Nebraska, borrowing a line from Omaha’s most famous resident, billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chairman Warren Buffett.

“There’s a civility and people treating each other with respect” in Nebraska and the Midwest that Washington would do well to embrace, Obama said. Referring to the Republican presidential campaigning going on in neighboring Iowa, Obama said the candidates are delivering a “doom and gloom” message that hinders finding solutions to the nation’s problems.

“Everybody’s running around and saying America’s in decline and everything’s scary and let’s find somebody to blame,” he said. “Things are not terrible.”

Republican Territory

Obama this week is visiting Nebraska and Louisiana, Republican-dominated states that nonetheless stand as illustrations of two trends that the president is taking credit for in his last year in office: declining unemployment and the expansion of health insurance coverage for the poor.

With the Republican and Democratic candidates vying to succeed him preparing for the Feb. 1 party caucuses in Iowa, the nation’s first nominating contest, Obama is highlighting the U.S. economic recovery in two states that he lost twice in presidential elections while also laying out his vision for the nation after his presidency is over.

Much of Obama’s address covered the same themes as Tuesday night’s State of the Union, including the deep partisan split between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Obama said he found it was strange that some in the chamber during his speech Tuesday night didn’t applaud when he called America the strongest country in the world. "That should not be a controversial statement," he said. "That’s how crazy our politics has gotten."

Buffett Rule

Obama’s schedule didn’t list a visit with Buffett, a supporter who lent his name to Obama’s proposal to impose a minimum tax on households with more than $1 million in income. Buffett five years ago went on record questioning the fairness of a system in which his tax rate is lower than his secretary’s -- giving rise to what became known as the “Buffett Rule.”

Buffett has endorsed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton as Obama’s successor and she, too, is backing imposition of a “Buffett Rule” to raise taxes on the nation’s top earners. Clinton’s version would put a minimum tax of 30 percent on adjusted gross incomes higher than $2 million.

Before his speech, Obama visited the home of Lisa and Jeff Martin in the Omaha suburbs. Lisa Martin, a high school English teacher, had written to the president a year earlier to tell him that when she fed her newborn son Cooper in the middle of the night she experienced "dread" worrying about whether environmental pollution and other trends in the world would prevent him from living a good life.

Nebraska’s Economy

Nebraska, with its military and farming jobs, has been competing with North Dakota over the past year for the distinction of holding the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. It stood at 2.9 percent, just a tick higher than North Dakota’s 2.7 percent, in November, the most recent figures available. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, Nebraska’s rate peaked at 4.8 percent in June 2009, lower than the 5 percent national unemployment rate now.

Representative Brad Ashford, a Nebraska Democrat traveling on Air Force One, told reporters before takeoff from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington that “people miscast Nebraska" as an overwhelmingly Republican state when it is really more “balanced” with strong support for public education and justice reform.  

Nebraska also is a major agricultural export state that would benefit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Obama has championed, said Ashford, who has endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary race.

The president will spend Thursday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where John Bel Edwards, the state’s newly inaugurated governor and the only Democrat to lead a state in the Deep South, has signed an executive order to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s chief domestic legislative achievement. 

Edwards’s Republican predecessor Bobby Jindal, like many other Republican governors opposing the Affordable Care Act, had declined to expand Medicaid. Edwards’s move will make more than 300,000 people in one of the country’s poorest states eligible for federal health coverage.

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