Starting a campaign-style swing to focus on middle-class issues, President Obama told auto workers in Michigan Wednesday that America’s economic recovery is nearly complete after his six years in the White House.
“America’s resurgence is real — don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” Mr. Obama said at a Ford Motor Co. factory in Wayne, Michigan. “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make sure more Americans feel like they’re coming back.”
The president’s speech had the feel of a victory lap as he began to lay the groundwork for his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 20, which he said will focus on “building on the progress that we’ve already made.” Mr. Obama took credit for the improving economy and the $79 billion auto industry bailout that saved GM and Chrysler — as well as Ford, which, unlike the other two automakers, didn’t take emergency loans from the government during the recession.
“Thanks to the steps we took early on to rescue our economy,” Mr. Obama said, “America is coming back.”
Last month, the government said it lost $9.26 billion on the auto bailout. The Treasury Department said it recovered $70.42 billion of the $79.68 billion it gave to GM, Chrysler, Ally Financial Inc. and automotive suppliers.
Mr. Obama also took credit for plummeting gas prices, saying increased U.S. oil production is “helping to save drivers about a $1.10 at the pump over this time last year.” OPEC decided in November to maintain production instead of cutting output to eliminate a global surplus.
The president’s speech was light on policy initiatives, save for a pledge to expand a $100 million apprenticeship program to train workers. He also threw in some praise for the nearby bankrupt city of Detroit, saying the Motor City is “charting a new course.”
“This city still faces some big challenges, but you’re coming back,” Mr. Obama said.
In front of his unionized audience, Mr. Obama never mentioned the issue of free trade, a subject that congressional Republicans are pressing him to lead. The president is seeking congressional approval to speed through negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation agreement that would cover about 40 percent of global economic output with countries from Japan to Mexico.
Although most Republicans support free trade, the issue is stalled in Congress as labor unions and their Democratic allies oppose giving Mr. Obama fast-track authority to conclude negotiations. Speaker John A. Boehner’s office said Wednesday that Mr. Obama is failing to lead his party on an issue that would boost exports and help the domestic auto industry.
“The president can begin this year with yet another campaign-style event to try and take credit for an economy that Americans know could be doing a lot better, or he can stand up to those in his own political party and begin building a coalition to help boost American exports and job creation,” the Ohio Republican’s office said in a statement.
The president also took some fire on the left Wednesday, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, telling a labor conference that America’s middle class “is in deep trouble.”
While crediting Mr. Obama for job creation and an improving economy, Ms. Warren said too many families are in deep debt after struggling through decades of stagnant wage growth.
“Today’s young adults may be the first generation in American history to do worse than their parents did,” she said.
The president said America’s economy has entered “calmer waters,” adding that “the worst of the crisis is behind us.” And he acknowledged that his trip across America this week to push his agenda is unusual, coming before the State of the Union.
“I’ve got to admit, I’ve only got two years left, and I didn’t want to wait to talk about all the things that make this country great and how we can make it better,” Mr. Obama said. “So I thought I’d get started this week. I figured, ‘Why wait?’ It’s like opening a Christmas present a little early.”
Mr. Obama will give a speech in Phoenix on Thursday about the recovery of the U.S. housing industry, and will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday for an address on education.