DECORAH – Bottom line, as bad as things are, President Obama said at an outdoor town hall meeting at rural Decorah, “we’re moving in the right direction.”
Obama, who is on a three-day Midwest bus tour, defended the choices he’s made in accepting less than he campaigned for on a range of issues, including health care and the economy.
“Maybe we didn’t get the public option, but we’ve got the closet thing we’ve ever had to universal health care,” he said Aug. 15 to a woman who was disappointed his health care reform didn’t include a single-payer option.
In addition, his plan covered 30 million people, included the strongest patient bill of rights ever, allowed people under 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance and eliminated life time limits.
Likewise, the economy isn’t completely healed, Obama said, “but we’re better off than when I came into office.”
Under his watch, Obama said, 100,000 troops have been pulled out of Iraq and the rest are scheduled to be out by the end of the year.
Although the focus of his tour is rural America, Obama spent much of the 90-minute town meeting defending decisions he’s made since becoming president.
He admitted making unattractive choices, some which have not helped him politically.
“It’s frustrating because the other side is unreasonable and you don’t want to reward unreasonableness,” he said, “but sometimes you have to make choices.”
Many of those choices have come as a result of factors that are out of the nation’s control: the Arab Spring that led to higher gas prices, the tsunami in Japan and the European debt crisis.
Still, he said, the future can be bright.
“Obviously we’ve gone through one of our toughest times in our history, the worst recession since the Great Depression, but I believe with every fiber of my being, that there is not a country on Earth that would not be willing to trade places with the United States,” Obama said. “As tough as things are, we, all of us, are incredibly blessed to have been born in the United States.”
Obama promised to present an economic recovery plan to Congress when it returns from its August recess. He hinted it might include a payroll tax cut to help working families, an infrastructure bank with seed capital from the federal government to leverage private sector wanting to invest in smart infrastructure projects.
“Now is not the time for us not to invest in infrastructure. We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best seaports,” he said. “These days, China’s got better airports than us. Europe has better rails systems. We should have the best.” Obama continued, “the best smart grid that transmits power from solar panels and wind turbines to high-population centers that could be an income generator for rural America and improve our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
The president also hopes the “super committee” created by Congress to deal with the debt and deficit will include tax reform.
“Potentially, if you closed a bunch of these loopholes and tax breaks you could lower the overall rate, broaden the base and it would be a fair, easier system that would combine simplification with actually more revenue,” he said.
“So my hope is Congress is willing to take up tax reform,” the president said. “So far, they’ve said they’re willing to do it, but so far, we haven’t seen a lot of energy on the part of some folks in actually delivering.”
Regardless what happens, “it is important that those of us best able to pay our fair share pay our fair share,” Obama said. “That’s a basic principle I think all of us agree on.”
After spending the night in Decorah, Obama is schedule to participate in a rural issues conference at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta Tuesday.