CLEVELAND -- Hours after changing policy to address one of the biggest criticisms of his signature health-care law, President Obama today used a steel mill to praise an unlikely Republican ally in his efforts.
"John Kasich, along with a lot of state legislators who are here today, have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act," he told several hundred gathered on the floor of the 100-year-old ArcelorMittal Cleveland mill.
"Think about that," he said. "Just because of one step, 275,000 Ohioans are going to have health insurance, and it doesn't depend on a Web site," he said. "That's already happening because of the Affordable Care Act. It's fair to say the governor didn't do it because he loves me so much. We don't agree on much, but he saw what makes sense...It was the right thing to do, and if a Republican governor gave what Kasich gave here rather than play politics about it, we'd have another 5 million Americans who can get access to health care regardless of what happens with the Web site."
The Democratic President visited the steel mill on the Cuyahoga River in an attempt to refocus public debate on elements of this agenda that have been overshadowed by technological problems associated with the rollout of the health-care law. But he came out swinging again at critics of the law and vowed that the problems would not cause him to retreat.
"We have to do everything we can to make sure every American has access to quality affordable health care," he said. "You may have read we had problems last month with the Web sites. I'm not happy about that. I had a press conference where I said we fumbled the ball in terms of the rollout. But we always knew this was going to be hard. There's a reason why folks have been trying to do it for 100 years and haven't ...
"We're going to get this done," he said. "We're going to get this Web site working the way it's supposed to...We're not going back to the old system because the old system was broken."
Before boarding his plane for Cleveland, Mr. Obama held a quick press conference in Washington to announce a change addressing complaints over the cancellation of some individual policies under the law despite past assurances that already insured Americans could keep their existing policies if they want to. Insurance companies would have the option of at least temporarily renewing existing policies even if they don't meet the mininum coverage requirements under the law.
He hopes to put the problems that have plagued the rollout of the health-care program behind him to focus on issues that have been flagged amid pressure by Republicans in Congress on the health-care law, budget cuts, and the federal debt, issues that are likely to be renewed in talks early next year over raising the federal debt ceiling. Mr. Obama wanted to talk about government investment in manufacturing, alternative forms of energy, and education as well as passage of an immigration law.
The ArcelorMittal Cleveland mill, the largest producer of steel for a strengthening auto manufacturing industry, has proven to be a bright spot in a steel industry that had struggled in recent years to compete globally. The facility furloughed its workers during the depths of the recession in 2009 but has since brought back those workers plus 150 more.
He noted that many plants would not have come back from that closure.
"That could have devastated this community for good, but we rolled up our sleeves," he said, referring to the federal bailout of the auto industry. "We made some tough choices...We bet on American ingenuity and American workers, and assembly lines started humming again...Over the last four years you've made yourself one of the most productive steel mills not just in America but in the world," he said. "You retooled to make the strongest steel that goes into newer better American cars and trucks..."
He said the plant's story has been repeated in plants across the country.
Before Mr. Obama's speech, Ted Roudebush, who works in purchasing at the plant, compared the atmosphere at the plant today to what it was when he went home for months during LTV's bankruptcy, not expecting to be recalled.
"I thought it was over," he said. "Wilbur Ross (of ISG Steel), who bought it, was my hero."
Today, the integrated steel mill, which changed hands several times during its century, is now the most productive facility for the Luxembourg-based corporation ArcelorMittal.
"We're proud about that," Mr. Roudebush said. "The ability for our manhours per ton of steel is world class, if not the best in the United States. It's just fantastic that here in Cleveland we were shut down and we could come back and do something like that. Everybody's doing two jobs, a lot smaller work force."
The mill also received help from the state in the form of a 75 percent, 15-year job-creation tax credit from the state beginning in 2002. It has until the end of ths year to meet its commitment of 1,400 jobs, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency. The mill also received a $63,996 job-traning grant.
The stop also allowed Mr. Obama to again bring attention to the gains seen in the auto industry, particularly in Ohio, since General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy and government bailout.
The visit marked Mr. Obama's second to Ohio since the battleground state helped to deliver his re-election last year. In May, he delivered the commencement speech at the Ohio State University.
After exceeding national job growth over the last couple of years, Ohio's unemployment rate currently matches the national average of 7.3 percent, although the two entities' reporting cycles are off because of the federal government shutdown in early October.
“As the October unemployment numbers demonstrated, for far too many Americans, 59 months of unemployment above 7 percent has made being out of work a ‘new normal'," said Eli Miller, Ohio director for the conservative Americans for Prosperity. "In addition, labor force participation was down again, now to 62.8 percent. For those with jobs, there is evidence that wages are stagnant, meaning more Ohio families are just getting by rather than getting ahead or moving up.
"This is simply unacceptable," he said. "More Americans are obviously feeling the same way as is reflected in the President’s current approval ratings.”
While Mr. Obama wanted to change the subject from the troubled rollout of his health-care reform law, Ohio Republicans weren't willing yet to let him do it.
"Ohioans are seeing their premiums and deductibles rise, their work hours cut, and their policies, that President promised they could keep, canceled," Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. "The problems of ObamaCare go far beyond a failed Web site. Real lives of real Ohioans are being hurt. Ohio Republicans have long fought against ObamaCare and warned that it was doomed to failure. Now it is an albatross around the necks of Ohio Democrats who have whole-heartedly endorsed it."
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.