- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Behaving as if he missed the memo about his party’s midterm election losses, President Obama will embark Thursday on another trip to red states to promote his economic policies as a better alternative for the middle class than Republicans’ proposals.

Mr. Obama will travel to Kentucky — home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has accused the president of waging a “war on coal” — to discuss the changing economy. He’ll then fly to Republican-dominated Utah, one of two states that Mr. Obama has yet to visit as president, where he’ll hold an event Friday on the economy at an Air Force base as the government releases the unemployment statistics for March.

Despite Democrats losing control of the Senate in November, Mr. Obama is pushing his agenda of higher taxes and higher government spending more aggressively, hoping to win the budget fight with congressional Republicans this year and to influence the policies of his party’s next presidential nominee — presumably Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Obama’s renewed push also comes as liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is turning up the heat on the administration — and on Mrs. Clinton — to boost Wall Street regulation and to kill major free trade deals in the works.

Helping the middle class “is what everybody should be talking about — Democrat or Republican,” Mrs. Warren said Wednesday on MSNBC. “I think this is a fight we have to have right this minute.”

Stephen Moore, a specialist on economic policy at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Obama “has done a good job of remaining on the policy offensive, even as a lame duck who got crushed in the midterm election.”

“He’s trying to remain relevant,” Mr. Moore said. “I have to say, Obama’s running around the country acting like he won the election, and Republicans are running around acting like they lost.”

During his trip, White House aides said Mr. Obama will take aim particularly at congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal the estate tax.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said a proposal approved by House Republicans would cost the Treasury $300 billion over 10 years, “just so they could extend tax breaks for people who are worth more than $11 million.”

“The president does not believe that is a fiscally responsible approach,” Mr. Earnest said. “That’s certainly one way the president could illustrate the difference in approach between Democrats and Republicans on economic issues.”

In Kentucky, the president will visit a cloud-based communications technology company in Louisville called Indatus. The company’s executives visited the White House recently to discuss a software coding training program that promotes jobs in the high-tech industry.

Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, is traveling with a congressional delegation to Israel and won’t be in Louisville for the president’s visit.

Mr. Obama’s budget for fiscal 2016 includes a new $300 million proposal for grants for training and credentialing in information technology. It’s part of his effort to boost wages, which have fallen slightly on Mr. Obama’s watch even as the jobless rate has declined significantly.

Long shot Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, also has criticized government policies that lead to stagnant wages, and told a New Hampshire audience this week that politics should not be dominated by “the ultrawealthy.”

Despite many states and employers heeding Mr. Obama’s call to raise their minimum wages, his policies have not led overall to wage growth.

“The problem that Obama can’t seem to get around — and this is a big problem for the Democrats — is people aren’t feeling the love in terms of their personal pocketbooks,” Mr. Moore said. “The recovery has translated to jobs but not wage gains. That’s the kind of Achilles’ heel of this expansion. It’s a good economy for people who have skills, and it’s a pretty bad economy for people who don’t have skills.”

The trip to Kentucky will be only Mr. Obama’s second as president. He visited troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in May 2011. The state voted against Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012; he won only five counties in Kentucky when he was reelected.

Mr. Obama has visited Utah even less often, stopping there only for a hastily arranged campaign rally in Park City in 2007 that attracted about 500 people. The state is home to Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent in 2012, Mitt Romney.

It’s also the home base of Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and an outspoken critic of the administration, and Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Public Lands and Environmental Regulation subcommittee, who has fought the president’s moves to declare more national monuments, primarily in Western states.

“The office of the president is so significant, obviously, [and] any time the president arrives, we want to make sure we are good hosts,” Mr. Bishop said. “I’ll be looking forward to greeting him. I don’t anticipate any kind of private conversation.”

Mr. Obama will hold an event at Ogden’s Hill Air Force Base, which employs nearly 26,000 workers in Mr. Bishop’s district, including service members, and which contributes about $3.3 billion to the state’s economy. The base has a federal payroll of $1.24 billion and provides maintenance and logistics services for the F-16 Falcon, the A-10 Thunderbolt and Minuteman II missiles.

Utah also has a relatively low rate of veteran unemployment — 4.9 percent in 2014, compared with 7.2 percent nationwide last year. It’s a right-to-work state with low tax rates and light regulation, Mr. Moore said.

Last month Mr. Obama made his first visit to South Carolina as president. After his trip to Utah, South Dakota will be the only state that Mr. Obama has yet to visit while in office.

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