Republican presidential hopefuls assailing Mitt Romney for his time spent as a leveraged-buyout specialist at Bain Capital got a helping hand Wednesday from President Obama.
The president convened a meeting of academics and business executives at the White House to commend companies that have chosen to "in-source" — keeping resources and jobs in the U.S. — and to explore tax breaks, federal subsidies and other incentives to encourage other businesses to follow suit.
At the forum, Mr. Obama sought advice from executives at companies such as Ford, padlock manufacturer Master Lock, North Carolina company Lincolnton Furniture and health care software developer GalaxE.Solutions — businesses that have bucked a recent trend toward outsourcing manufacturing jobs.
"These companies are choosing to invest in the one country with the most productive workers, best universities and most creative and innovative entrepreneurs in the world: the United States of America," Mr. Obama said at the event. "That's exactly the kind of commitment to country we need — especially now, at this make-or-break moment for the middle class."
With Mr. Obama heading into a tough re-election fight, the event highlights the president's efforts to shore up support among working-class Americans and organized labor, which gave Mr. Obama high praise for hosting the event.
"For too long, the 1 percent have sought and received tax breaks that actually created subsidies for corporations exporting good American jobs overseas," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the administration to end those job-destroying tax subsidies and implement policies that encourage investment and job creation here at home."
But the forum also focuses attention on the divisions among Republicans on outsourcing.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in recent days have attacked Mr. Romney for helping companies restructure at the expense of American jobs.
Mr. Romney vehemently defends his record, arguing that he helped the businesses become profitable again and helped create a net 100,000 jobs.
Mr. Romney, fresh off his big win in the Republican primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, warned Mr. Obama on Wednesday that the president is vulnerable on the issue as well.
"The president took the reins of General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers. He did it to try to save the business," Mr. Romney said on "CBS This Morning." "[We] had, on occasion, to do things that are tough, to try to save a business."
At the White House business forum, Mr. Obama focused on the migration of many middle-class manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas. In the last two years, U.S. manufacturers have added jobs, but far more needs to be done, he said.
"I do not want America to be a nation that's primarily known for financial speculation and outsourcing and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations," Mr. Obama said. "I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: 'Made in America.' And we can make that happen."
In the next few weeks, the president said he plans to unveil new tax proposals that reward companies that choose to bring jobs home and invest in the U.S. — and eliminate tax breaks for companies that have moved jobs overseas.
Improving labor conditions in the United States and increasing costs in places such as China are giving companies economic incentives, but businesses also have a moral obligation to invest in America, Mr. Obama said.
"That's part of the responsibility that comes with being a leader in America — a responsibility not just to the shareholders or the stakeholders, but to this country that made all this incredible wealth and opportunity possible," he said.
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