Obama touts economy in North Carolina speech

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One day after the Super Tuesday primaries, President Obama traveled to the swing state of North Carolina and doubled-down on his call for cutting tax subsidies for oil and gas companies in an ongoing attempt to cast Republicans as out of touch with middle-class workers.

Speaking to workers at a Daimler truck plant in Mount Holly, the president reiterated his defense of his administration’s “all-of-the-above” strategy for developing more domestic energy sources and curbing U.S. dependence on foreign oil through expanded drilling and the development of biofuels, as well as wind, solar and nuclear power.

Mr. Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to eliminating tax subsidies for oil and gas companies and complained that Republicans are standing in the way of the proposal.

“Right now, $4 billion of your tax dollars goes straight to the oil industry every year — $4 billion in subsidies that other companies don’t get,” he said. “Now, keep in mind, these are some of the same companies that are making record profits every time you fill up your gas tank.

“The American people have subsidized the oil industry long enough — they don’t need the subsidies,” he said. “It’s time to end that taxpayer giveaway to an industry that’s never been more profitable and invest in clean energy that’s never been more promising.”

Though Mr. Obama’s proposal is a political long shot with Republicans controlling the House, the president has repeatedly pushed the plan in an attempt to appeal to middle-class voters at a time when gas prices are on the rise.

Last year, a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that eliminating oil and gas subsidies would push prices higher and lead to greater dependence on foreign oil, but noted that the impact would be on a “small scale.”

Republicans argue that Mr. Obama could do far more to support domestic drilling and they point to the CRS report as evidence that Mr. Obama’s policies are driving up the cost of gasoline.

In an effort to keep the political heat on the president, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the rising gas prices with Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute and Charles Drevna, president of CarbM Trucking. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will face a separate hearing Thursday.

With Republican presidential contenders and the results Tuesday’s primaries dominating the news, voters across the country are paying more attention to the campaign this week, and Mr. Obama has tried to keep himself in the headlines and push back against Republican attempts to tie him to gas prices, which have roughly doubled since he took office in early 2009 and could slow the burgeoning economic recovery.

On Tuesday, the president held his first news conference of the year followed by his trip to North Carolina, a state he carried in 2008 and that polls show could be up for grabs in November. According to a February survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm in Raleigh, Mr. Obama leads the entire Republican field in the state, though only by slimmest of margins.

The president is up 47 percent to 46 percent against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; 48 percent to 46 percent on former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; 50 percent to 45 percent on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and 47 to 41 percent against Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

A new Elon University/Charlotte Observer poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Obama’s poll numbers inching up in the state, but more North Carolinians still disapprove of how he’s handling the economy and his job overall. The poll, conducted Feb. 27 to March 1, showed 51 percent of those surveyed disapproving of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, with 43 percent saying they approved.

The same survey showed just 45 percent of North Carolina voters approve of Mr. Obama’s overall job performance, while 48 percent disapprove.

Mr. Obama hopes to build on that razor-thin advantage by assailing tax breaks for oil and gas companies in a state whose residents spent a larger percent of their after-tax incomes on gasoline, according to a new report by the Wells Fargo economics group. The higher prices hit consumers at the pump but also translate into higher prices for food and other goods else because of increased transportation costs.

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