President Barack Obama took time out Tuesday from dealing with the Middle East turmoil and other crises to focus on the U.S. economy and politics. The president visited the politically important state of Ohio to promote his plan to boost American economic competitiveness.
The president wants the government to spend more money on a plan he said will encourage innovation and make American businesses more competitive around the world.
Opposition Republicans in Ohio and other states, however, are calling for more government cost-cutting at the state and national levels.
Obama went to the city of Cleveland on Tuesday to meet with more than 100 leaders of small businesses, which he said generate two out of every three of the country’s new jobs.
"But the truth is, when it comes to our economy, it is our small businesses that pack the biggest punch, especially when it comes to employment, which is obviously one of the biggest challenges that we faced coming out of this "great recession" that we had."
One of the business leaders who talked with the president was Ariane Kirkpatrick, who runs a construction company. "I’ve only been in business for almost two years now. I’ve done it with no capital, no access, just with the pennies and dimes and nickels I have in my pocket. And I’ve been able to carry a payroll. I’ve been able to pay my union bills, insurance, everything on time. But I’m stressed because I have no access to capital," said Kirkpatrick.
Unemployment tops nine percent in Ohio, as it does nationwide.
The president is encouraging states like Ohio, whose economies once relied heavily on manufacturing, to concentrate on exporting technology and so-called "clean energy" equipment.
He also is campaigning for increased federal spending for education, infrastructure and economic innovation.
Since January, Obama has made weekly trips around the country to promote his plan. Among his stops have been Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, which will be important to his re-election bid next year.
The president is trying to appeal to resurgent Republicans by making big cuts in federal domestic programs, which he said will help reduce the huge U.S. budget deficit.
"By cutting back on what we do not need, we can invest in the future," said Obama. "We can invest in the things that are critical to our long-term success."
The president said he is willing to attack the deficit, but insisted that added spending for competitiveness is absolutely necessary.
"I want to work with Democrats and Republicans to make even bigger dents in our deficits, find new savings, cut excessive spending wherever it exists. At the same time, we cannot sacrifice investments in our future."
In the state capital, Columbus, meanwhile, state workers protested the Republican governor’s budget-cutting proposal, which would end collective bargaining for public employees. Similar demonstrations have been going on for about a week in Wisconsin.
Ohio is the seventh-largest of the 50 U.S. states, and its electorate is roughly half Democratic and half Republican. Obama won Ohio in the 2008 election, but Republicans swept the state’s top political offices in last year’s midterm vote.