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View from the Hill Blog: National Goes to the Newseum

By Grace Boatright, View from the Hill National Grange Legislative Blog (5/13/11)

  MAY 20, 2011 --

Wednesday the National Grange had the very special opportunity to attend President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting at Washington D.C.’s Newseum, hosted by CBS News. The meeting focused on the state of the economy and gave those who attended an opportunity to speak to their Commander and Chief about the job he’s doing (or isn’t doing) regarding our current economic crisis. The audience consisted of roughly 150 people, most of them D.C. locals, college students, business owners, organizations, and the rest of us who were brave enough to stand the security measures of a presidential event.

As previously noted, the meeting centered on the economy and provided the President with ample opportunity to state his case and defend the economic policies he’s fought so hard to implement and maintain; quite a feat given his 34% approval rating on the topic. Naturally, discussion opened with CBS’s Erica Hill reaffirming that the American people feel as though “for every two steps forward, it’s one step back,” to which the President agreed and stated the importance of focusing not only on the recovery, but on fixing the problems that existed before. He added that the recovery has been “uneven,” referencing that sects like manufacturing are doing quite well while others like the housing market are gasping for breath. “...it's gonna take us several years for us to get back to where we need to be…but the important thing, though...is we're moving in the right direction."

The President’s optimism that we’re “moving in the right direction” was immediately brought back to earth with a question regarding gas prices and just what exactly is he willing to do to see them drop. Obama made clear “we’re producing more oil now than any time since 2003.” The President continued the discussion by re-affirming his long-term plan to implement fuel-efficiency standards for cars, which he says would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. I’m sure that doesn’t mean much to the 9% of Americans who are out of work and otherwise unable to trade in their old cars for newer fuel-efficient models. Nor should it mean much to the other millions of Americans who are seeing more and more of their income going into their gas tanks, with gas prices now hovering around $4 nationwide. Consequently, given Obama’s moratorium on off-shore drilling last summer, he seems intent to let that oil production happen somewhere besides the U.S. However, for some good news, the Republican-led House voted Thursday to lift Obama’s ban on off-shore drilling by passing the “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act.

Discussion continued in the direction of job creation and the housing market. Not really helping his case, Obama pointed out that a large portion of job losses in the country have come from government lay-offs, not from the private sector. The problem, according to the President, lies in the fact that companies, both domestically and abroad, are still unsure about whether America is a worthy investment. He stated that companies “must start placing their bets on America,” and that most companies have benefitted from government efforts to stabilize the economy. Obama was then schooled by a woman currently underwater in her mortgage that his attempts to reverse the housing crisis have not worked. “Well, it's not that it hasn't worked…the problem is, is that the need is so great. So it's like you have a huge pothole, and you only have so much gravel. And if you're talking about-- $5 trillion worth of home value, and a program that only has a few billion dollars, then there are a lot of people who are not going to be helped. And so what we're trying to do is to figure out how can we get the banks to do more,” replied the President. That also is little comfort to the one in four homeowners who are currently upside down in their mortgages, meaning they owe more than it’s worth. Even now, home prices are down 8% from just a year ago and falling 1% each month. Obviously, this woman is not completely wrong and Obama’s measures to improve the housing market have been about as effective as his responsive to the floods in the Tennessee Valley.

After the meeting was done and adjourned, it was more apparent to me and several other audience members that the President is far from having a completely realistic view on the economy, its effects on common Americans, or its path to improvement. Main Street knows all too well the hardships associated with high unemployment and low wages. However, I suppose with the Secret Service pumping all his gas, it’s easy for Obama to forget life on Main Street America.

-Grace Boatright
National Grange Programs Assistant

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