WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama said Monday that rural states such as Maine could benefit significantly from his administration’s energy and technology initiatives but reiterated that fixing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression will take time, and money.
With tensions on Capitol Hill mounting over the Obama administration’s spending plan, the president outlined his strategy for tackling the recession by focusing on energy independence, health care reform, education and reducing the deficit.
What the nation cannot afford to do, Obama said, was attempt a return to the “bubble” economies and expect anything other than a boom followed by a debilitating bust.
“We’ve gone through all of the bubbles now: We went through our tech bubble, we’ve gone through the housing bubble,” Obama told a small group of journalists gathered in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.
“There are no more bubbles. If we don’t invest in science, infrastructure, human capital, fixing our health care system and promoting energy independence, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and we won’t grow fast enough.”
Obama made the remarks to reporters from a half-dozen regional newspapers from across the country, including the Bangor Daily News. White House officials organized Monday’s intimate press conference — as well as two previous events — as part of the president’s efforts to communicate his message to Americans outside of the Washington Beltway and major metropolitan areas.
Asked about his administration’s proposals for small towns in Maine and elsewhere suffering from shuttered factories, Obama pointed out that his economic stimulus plan contains more than $1 billion to help bring broadband Internet access to rural America.
“That’s the kind of spending that not only creates jobs right now, but it also then creates the infrastructure for companies wanting to locate in some of these communities that have fallen behind,” Obama said.
“Wherever we can find opportunities to do that, to make the private sector want to locate in areas that have great quality of life but oftentimes don’t have the infrastructure support that they need, then we want to have government fill in some of that gap.”
Other components of the president’s stimulus plan for rural America include hundreds of millions of dollars in access to health care, economic development, outdoor recreation and renewable energy.
Earlier Monday, Obama held a press conference touting his plan to invest more than $50 billion over 10 years on clean energy and $75 billion on research and development. During his meeting with the regional reporters, Obama said investing in clean energy can help the U.S. return to economic growth “of the old-fashioned sort” where growth is tied to producing things rather than hinging on inflated financial figures.
“I want to be clear because I don’t want to sound too sunny,” he said. “This year is going to be hard, and it is not in just traditional industrial states like my home state of Illinois or Pennsylvania. We are working through a wrenching crisis that resulted from the contraction of the financial crisis.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was pleased with some of the energy and broadband initiatives put forward by the Obama administration. Collins and Maine’s delegation have been instrumental in securing millions of dollars for research and development of offshore wind technology at the University of Maine.
“I think Maine can benefit from the president’s initiatives on alternative energy, and I look forward to working with him in that area,” Collins said in an interview. “It is not, however, going to happen overnight.”
While investment in broadband Internet access will help, it will not be a “magic solution,” she said.
Collins and fellow Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe played pivotal roles in the passage of Obama’s stimulus package earlier this year. They were among only three Republicans to vote in favor of the package in either chamber of Congress and have been roundly criticized by some in their party.
But the president does not have the support of either of Maine’s senators for his 10-year spending plan. Collins called the deficit growth predicted by the Congressional Budget Office “not sustainable” and said it sets the country on a dangerous course.
Snowe said in an interview that the president’s budget has “serious problems” and will have to be overhauled by congressional budget writers.
“Under the scenarios in which we are operating, it’s preferable to be more prudent and conservative than overly optimistic and wrong,” Snowe said.
Addressing Republican criticisms of his budget, Obama said his spending plan assumes slightly higher annual growth than the Congressional Budget Office, which accounts for the vast disparity in projected deficits.
Instead, he described the Republicans as “trying to position themselves as being fiscally conservative after eight years of not being fiscally conservative.
“I just want to make sure that when it comes to solving this current economic crisis that we don’t get so caught up in short-term politics that we’re missing the bigger picture,” he said.