In North Carolina, Obama to make move in 'year of action'

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 9:34am

President Barack Obama travels to North Carolina Wednesday to announce another bid to revive America's manufacturing sector, a first step in his newly imposed "year of action" that avoids Congressional approval for measures to boost the economy.

The announcement Wednesday of a new syndicate of businesses and universities to develop next generation electronics fulfills the President's promise to create "manufacturing hubs" that spur innovation nationwide. He vowed to develop the regional centers in last year's State of the Union address.

The hubs form an element of Obama's 2014 strategy, which relies on executive actions to kick start economic growth, rather than on action from Congress. Obama and the Republican-controlled House have spent most of the President's time in the White House at odds over budgets and job creation plans.

Speaking to members of his Cabinet at the White House Tuesday, Obama said he needed "all hands on deck" to pursue his economic strategy that bypasses Capitol Hill.

"The economy is improving, but it can be improving even faster," he said, noting his bully pulpit powers - or what he described as the power of the pen and the phone - in achieving his policy goals.

The North Carolina project the President plans to announce Wednesday pairs manufacturers and suppliers with universities to develop new electronic chips that would be produced in the United States. The White House said the consortium is backed by $70 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and another $70 million from the companies and universities, and the State of North Carolina.

North Carolina State, where Obama will speak Wednesday, is one of three major research universities near Raleigh that form the state's Research Triangle. Major technology firms also call the region home.

The North Carolina project is one of three "innovation hubs" the White House says it will announce this year, after holding competitions to host the centers in May. The administration has pledged $200 million from the budgets of various agencies to fund the projects.

The remaining two, funded by the Defense Department, will be announced in the coming weeks, the White House says. They'll focus on digital and metal manufacturing, and will fulfill a pledge from Obama's 2013 State of the Union address to create the hubs. Last week, Obama moved to complete another vow to develop "promise zones" in regions beset with high unemployment and crime.

North Carolina has been a favorite stop for Obama over the past five years, both for its status as a presidential battleground and its relative proximity to Washington. He's paid particular attention to the state's Research Triangle, a reliably Democratic enclave, and held a rally at the same university in 2011 in his bid to boost support for his proposed jobs law.

The state proved a disappointment for Obama and Democrats in 2012. Despite holding their national nominating convention in Charlotte, Obama lost the state by two points to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney - making North Carolina one of two states to switch from Obama in 2008 to the Republican nominee four years later.

Republicans have said that loss, paired with Obama's slumping popularity, make North Carolina's Democrat-held U.S. Senate seat prime for the taking in this year's midterm elections. Sen. Kay Hagan currently holds the seat, though she won't be at Obama's event Wednesday - her spokesman told CNN she would remain in Washington since the Senate is still in session. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is highlighting Hagan's absence from the President's event.

Hagan was one of several Democratic lawmakers who publicly criticized the rollout of Obama's signature health law last year, which coincided with the drop in Obama's approval rating. She and other Democrats called for a legislative fix to the law allowing Americans to keep canceled insurance plans, despite Obama's announced administrative fix.

While Hagan publicly distanced herself from the rollout of Obama's signature health care legislation, she has taken up his call for extending emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.


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