With the growing veterans health care crisis swirling around him, President Obama on Thursday left Washington for Cooperstown, New York, where he toured the Baseball Hall of Fame and made a pitch for international tourists to come to the United States.
Mr. Obama, an avid baseball fan and the first sitting president to visit the hall, said tourism provided $1.5 trillion to the economy last year and supported about 8 million jobs.
“When visitors come here, they don’t just check out the hall. They rent cars, they stay in hotels, they eat at restaurants, and that means, for upstate New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a powerful economic engine,” the president said.
He added, “When tourists come from other countries and spend money here, that’s actually considered a type of export. We don’t always think about it that way, but we should. Nothing says ‘made in America’ better than the Empire State Building or the Hoover Dam. When it comes to tourism, the good news is we’ve got a great product to sell.”
Before flying to Cooperstown, Mr. Obama issued a memorandum designed to make it easier for foreign visitors to come to America. He directed Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to develop a comprehensive plan within 120 days that focuses on a “national goal of improving the experience” of foreigners arriving at U.S. airports and eliminating unnecessary wait times.
The president also called on the private sector to join the federal government in creating a “positive first impression” of the U.S. for guests from around the world.
The effort builds on the administration’s 2012 plan to streamline the processing of visas and make it quicker and easier to visit the United States.
Partially as a result of that campaign, visas issued by the State Department rose 42 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to the White House.
But Mr. Obama’s speech Thursday touched on more than tourism. As has become routine when he speaks about the economy, the president blasted congressional Republicans for standing in the way of a minimum wage increase, major investments in infrastructure and other pieces of the White House’s agenda.
The issues of income inequality, the minimum wage and other economic matters are central to the looming midterm elections, and Mr. Obama has tried to convince voters that Republicans are standing in the way of progress.
“We’ve got a Congress that all too often spends a few days a week blocking initiatives to create jobs and raise wages,” he said. “They seem to be more interested in politics right now than performance, and that’s a challenge.”
Congressional Republicans have countered that Mr. Obama’s economic agenda, and the minimum wage hike in particular, would have devastating consequences.
“The real minimum wage is zero. And you will push a lot of people to a minimum wage of zero if government artificially steps in and tries to manipulate the price, because a lot of people will just lose their jobs,” Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said Thursday at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.