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Published: Monday, 2/25/2008

Obama cites call to action , tells Blade editorial board change demands sacrifice

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Blade s editorial board Sunday that people are ready for the kind of "call to action" that he has been advocating in rallies and speeches during his 13-month campaign.

For some, that could mean slightly higher taxes or a disincentive to drive a gas-guzzling vehicle. For everyone, it would mean higher electrical prices in the short run.

"The question is at what point are we willing to get together and understand that doing many of these things are hard, that it s going to require sacrifice from those of us who are lucky in this society to pay a little more in taxes, or to, if we re going to drive a Suburban, then you know there may be a disincentive to doing it, and that s where leadership comes in," Mr. Obama said.

"That s where getting people interested and excited in our politics and to believe we can do big things is relevant and that s what I think I can provide, in addition to just being competent in terms of running the government and putting competent people in place that additional factor of being able to rally the country is, I think, very important if we re going to be able to solve these problems," he said.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination responded to a variety of questions about his experience, health-care plans, education, the environment, and other top-ics in an hour-long visit to The Blade and its editorial board, just before speaking at a rally at the University of Toledo s Savage Hall.

A U.S. senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama, 46, is competing with Sen. Hillary Clinton, 60, of New York, in the Ohio primary election March 4. He leads in delegates and in the popular vote, and has won the 11 last primaries and caucuses.

Many believe the battle for the Democratic nomination could be settled a week from tomorrow when the Ohio and Texas primaries are held.

John Robinson Block, The Blade s co-publisher and editor-in-chief, greeted Mr. Obama at the front entrance of the newspaper shortly after 2:45 p.m., telling him, "The Toledo Blade is a newspaper that believes in justice and never has supported George Bush."

Mr. Obama broke into laughter and flashed a big smile. The two then looked at the only known copy of the first edition of the Toledo Blade, published in 1835, and now encased in glass.

Before walking up the stairs to the editorial board offices, Mr. Obama stopped to shake hands with several Blade employees and posed for photos with children of the employees.

Mr. Obama accepted a book on heart health inscribed to him by Mr. Block.

The book, Healthy Heart Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook, was produced by the Cleveland Clinic. The handwritten inscription inside the cover read: "To commemorate Senator Barack Obama s visit to The Toledo Blade. May this book help him lead America to better health."

Mr. Block said he decided to give a copy of the book to Mr. Obama because of the foreword, written by Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Dr. Nissen wrote in the last paragraph that if everyone would follow its guidelines, heart disease and diabetes would decline, people would live longer and need less medical care, whole hospital wings would have to close, and "I and most of my colleagues would be thrown out on the streets unemployed. It would be the happiest day of my life."

In the meeting at The Blade, Mr. Obama spelled out his proposal for health insurance. He said it would allow privately funded plans to continue, but he would create a plan for uninsured or self-employed people similar to the plan members of Congress have.

He said the key difference between his and Mrs. Clinton s plan is that it would not require people to get coverage, but they are 95 percent the same.

He said there would be some intervention into the private market, including by creating a "catastrophic reinsurance program" that would help private plans absorb the impact of an extremely costly medical case that would threaten to drive up other employees premiums.

There also would be a requirement that insurance companies cover children until they are age 25 to span the gap between graduating from college and getting a job that provides benefits.

He said his policies would emphasize preventive care.

"This is something that I ve been emphasizing everywhere I go. The rise in the incidence of diabetes, childhood diabetes, all directly traced to increases in obesity, is astonishing. If we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980 we would save the Medicare system a trillion dollars," he said.

He said cost-saving measures would cover about half the cost of his health-care plan and that rolling back President Bush s tax cuts on the top 1 percent of earners would pay for the rest.

Mr. Obama said he s been up front about his calls for sacrifice, but said his proposals would provide relief to those who need it. He proposes an annual $4,000 tax credit for college tuition. But in exchange, the student would have to commit to community or public service for a period of time.

Mr. Obama said he did not envision rolling back the cost of gasoline and food, but said those rising costs would be addressed by putting cash back in people s pockets, such as a $1,000 tax credit for families earning less than $75,000.

"We have an economy in which all the productivity increases over the last two decades have gone to the top 1 percent. Ordinary workers have seen their wages and incomes flatlined so they take on more and more debt and they can t save, and that imbalance in the economy I think is unsustainable," he said.

He said his energy policy would put caps on the emission of greenhouse gases, "generating billions of dollars from polluters who are releasing carbons," and then investing that money in wind, solar, biodiesel, and other green energies.

Addressing climate change and capping greenhouse gases are going to lead to a spike in electricity costs ... we re actually going to have to provide some help to low-income and fixed-income individuals to cover higher electricity prices on the front end.

He said wind and solar plants can provide jobs and advocated businesses retrofitting buildings to be energy-efficient.

"That s the future we have to develop here in Toledo. If I m not mistaken, there is some solar panel construction industry in this region. There s no reason we shouldn t be looking at all of Ohio, big chunks of Michigan, as centerpieces for that new energy future," Mr. Obama said.

He also said he is proposing a $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund to help people who have been making mortgage payments stay in their homes.

"In terms of general inflation of gas, food prices, and so forth, I think what we need to do is help people retain a little bit more of their wages and income right now," he said.

Mr. Obama, who was in Akron and Cleveland Saturday night, said he spelled out his economic policy in a tour of the National Gypsum plant in Lorain yesterday morning.

He said his plan for international trade agreements would require "strong labor protections, strong environmental protections, and strong safety standards," a position virtually identical to that of Mrs. Clinton.

The two have argued over what Mr. Obama said is Mrs. Clinton s support prior to this campaign of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was implemented during her husband s first presidential term.

"I ve consistently opposed NAFTA, and I would amend that and make sure future trade deals reflect the interest of communities like Toledo and their workers as well as the interests of New York City," he said.

In responding to the question of whether his experience as an Illinois state legislator and a U.S. senator since 2004 is adequate for someone to be president, Mr. Obama said the question is not just of one s resume but his or her judgment.

"How do you think I m getting here, do you think I m duping everybody?" he asked. "You think everybody just has a crush?

"When I opposed the war in Iraq, it wasn t just in a knee-jerk fashion. I made a very specific speech laying out here s what s going to happen," Mr. Obama said. "Everything I said was borne out."

Despite what he said is an "unabashedly progressive agenda," he attracts Republican and independent voters more successfully than Mrs. Clinton would, he said.

"So I think we have the opportunity, because of the failures of [President] Bush, to pick off a big chunk of the electorate in the same way that Ronald Reagan was able to rebuild a working majority in 1980," Mr. Obama said.

Recalling that he was once criticized for appearing to praise the late Mr. Reagan, Mr. Obama added, "I m not talking about admiring those policies. But politically, he was able to reach beyond the traditional Republican base and create a new politics in this country."

Asked what his weaknesses are, he said, "I m not particularly skilled at managing paper my desk is a mess. I tell my staff: Don t hand me things until two minutes before I need them."

He said his strength is in his leadership skills and that he knows it would be important to hire capable staff.

"So, while I think that this is a weakness, ... it would be a problem if I were applying for chief of staff at the White House, but not one to be president," he said.

Later in the meeting Mr. Obama praised Mrs. Clinton as capable and intelligent.

"I suspect she manages paper much better than I do," he said, laughing.

Mr. Obama said he has proposed setting up a $60 billion fund to help pay for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, with some matching requirements.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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