WAYNE, Mich. (AP) — Declaring an American economic resurgence, President Barack Obama opened a three-state swing Wednesday aimed at claiming credit for recent growth and blunting the momentum of the new Republican congressional leadership.
“We are entering into the new year with new confidence that America is coming back,” Obama declared at a Ford plant in Michigan, a state at the center of both the downturn and rejuvenation of the U.S. automobile industry.
From Michigan, Obama was headed to Phoenix, where he was to announce lower insurance premiums for government-backed mortgages. The White House said the reduction by the Federal Housing Administration means new home buyers and those who refinance with FHA would pay $900 less a year than they would otherwise, in a bid to help more Americans own their own homes.
Obama’s road trip comes amid a surprising burst of momentum for the White House following Democrats’ disastrous showing in the midterm elections. Alongside signs of economic progress, the president has also unveiled a series of aggressive executive actions and seen his low approval ratings start to creep up.
The president has also talked optimistically about opportunities to cooperate with congressional Republicans on issues like trade and tax reform. But big clashes between the White House and the new Republican leadership will come first.
The White House has threatened to veto two priority pieces of legislation for the GOP: a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and another measure that could increase the health care law’s definition of a full-time worker from 30 to 40 hours per week.
“It seems with every new day we have a new veto threat from the president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. Obama and congressional leaders scheduled their first meeting of the new year for Tuesday.
In an effort to counteract the veto threats with new ideas, the White House plans to use the coming weeks to outline proposals the president will discuss in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address. The approach marks a shift from the White House’s usual strategy of staying mum about new proposals until the annual address to a joint session of Congress.
“I thought I’d get started this week,” Obama said. “I figured, why wait?”
The president said his State of the Union address would focus on what steps the country needs to take over his final years in office to capitalize on recent economic gains. While the economic recovery has been uneven throughout much of Obama’s presidency, there have been recent surges in growth fueled by hiring gains, falling gas prices and rising consumer confidence.
The president cast his 2009 federal bailout of the auto industry as a key decision that helped set the recovery in motion. After spending $80 billion to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, the government reported last month that it had recouped nearly $71 billion of that investment.
Ford was not part of the federal bailout. Ahead of his remarks, Obama got a look at the company’s new Mustang and slipped into a shiny red model on the plant floor. He later said that while he likes his current ride — a black armored limousine — “the Mustangs had a little more style.”
The Michigan Assembly Plant where Obama spoke is temporarily closed this week because of lack of demand for the small cars and hybrids it makes. Falling gas prices have hurt sales of the Ford Focus, which saw sales drop 6 percent in 2014, and the C-Max hybrid, which was down 22 percent.
Automakers often close plants temporarily to make sure their inventories match demand. Ford said the plant will reopen Monday.
From frigid Michigan, where the temperatures barely got above zero degrees, Obama was headed to Phoenix, a city that has served as a symbol of both of the housing market’s crash and its slow recovery.
The premium rate reduction was to be the centerpiece of Obama’s speech there Thursday. Even with the reduction, the new 0.85 percent premium is higher than historic norms. The rate was initially increased to raise FHA capital reserves, which took a hit during the housing crisis.
Obama returns to Washington Thursday night, then will hit the road again Friday. He’ll travel to Tennessee, where he is expected to tout the state’s new policy to pay for community college tuition.
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