Flanked by the CEO of Google, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve and four state governors, Barack Obama held a “jobs summit” Tuesday in South Florida that promised everything from economic stimulus and tax cuts to a major restructuring of the U.S. financial system if the Democrat is elected president.
The plans touted during the two-hour forum at Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth were massive in scope, involving industrial policy, health care and finance. Among the $200 billion in new spending Obama promised:$15 billion to create 5 million new “green” jobs in alternative energy companies over the next decade.
In addition, Obama plans to restructure the health care system, create a 90-day moratorium on housing foreclosures, and establish sweeping new rules for Wall Street trading.
The forum, in which the candidate sat at the center of a long table asking questions of the governors and other dignitaries, was short on any plans for tax increases, or details about where the new money would come from.
“Tax increases are the last thing our families need in an economy like this,” Obama said at one point, but he made clear that as president he would find the money for additional spending.
“If people tell you we can’t invest in our future, just remind them that we’re spending $10 billion a month rebuilding Iraq,” Obama told the crowd of about 2,000 people jammed into the college’s small gymnasium. “None of this is going to be easy. It’s not going to come without a cost. We’re not going to be able to do it overnight.”
But Floridia Gov. Charlie Crist, responding to Obama's campaign stop in South Florida, said it was John McCain who really understood what was important to voters in the Sunshine State.
"He gets it. It's about tax cuts," Crist said of McCain. "It's about helping the small business owners, the people who really create jobs. That what's going to get our economy back on track."
Two of the summit panelists, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Mich. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, described their states as reeling from hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost during the Bush administration. They cited rising health care costs as one of the factors driving large manufacturers to relocate overseas.
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, called for subsidies and tax credits to buttress the country’s education system and develop new industries. Schmidt called for developing national electronic grids that would allow a new generation of cars to both recharge their batteries and even sell excess energy when parked.
But there was no dodging the dire state of the economy, which more than one speaker called the worst since the Great Depression.
Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Carter and Reagan administrations, and a close Obama advisor, called for a restructuring of laws to regulate CEO compensation. He also wanted new rules on the ability of institutions to trade complex financial instruments like subprime mortgage packages.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day when the biggest banks in the United States, the biggest banks in Europe, require help and support from government,” Volcker said. “One of the challenges for the next president is how are we going to privatize institutions that never should have been socialized in the first place.”
Responding to criticism of his plan by Republican presidential rival John McCain, Obama said both McCain and President George W. Bush had engineered the financial bailout for big businesses, not the average American homeowner.
“While President Bush and Sen. McCain were ready to move heaven and earth to address the crisis on Wall Street, the president has failed so far to address the crisis on Main Street, and Sen. McCain has failed to fully acknowledge it," Obama said.
Obama said that McCain's $350 billion economic plan didn’t offer nearly enough to Americans worried about keeping their jobs, their homes and their lifestyles.
“Instead of common sense solutions, month after month, they've offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology,” he said.
Crist called Obama's tax plan contradictory and troubling, saying the idea that a president can increase spending and cut taxes to 95 percent of Americans "just doesn't make sense."
"We've all seen this illustrated clearly now by Joe the Plumber. That's why that issue had so much traction," Crist added. "John McCain understands that tax cuts are the way to go and he's been talking about that since the campaign began. That's important to the people of Florida and to the people all over America."
Crist said the difference between the McCain and the Obama tax plans is what voters should be focused on as the election nears.
"Taxes is clearly one of the strongest areas to contrast," he said. "McCain will cut taxes and make sure they stay low. That helps our economy."
The Florida governor cited the most recent polls showing the state a virtual dead heat. Both candidates are working the Florida voters hard in the waning days of the campaign, anxious to add the state’s 27 electoral votes to their column.
Crist said he is confident that McCain is moving out on front in Florida, adding that he's not concerned about the voter fraud issues being raised in other key battleground states such as Ohio and Missouri.