Liveblog: Ft. Myers, FL townhall (Update: pictures)
1:12 p.m.: Wrapping up. President is shaking some hands and greeting the crowd.
1:10 p.m.: Question: from an enthusiastic young man named Julio who says he has worked for McDonald's for four years but hasn't seen his benefits improve. Answer: Tax cuts will help you keep more money, and the ARRA will make health care coverage and college tuition more affordable. "For young people like Julio who have so much enthusiasm and energy, we have to make sure we are giving them opportunities."
1:07 p.m.: Question: How can you help with infrastructure and transportation? Answer: We've got a lot of work to do. Nods to American Society of Civil Engineer's recently released 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, which gives the country's roads, bridges, and ports a national grade of D. Makes a case for high-speed rail and mass tranit -- says the days of sprawl are over. "Everyone recognizes that's not a good way to design communities."
1:00 p.m.: Question:You said we have to be patient. What's the plan? Answer: "We didn't get in to this fix overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight." Says the staff is working as hard as possible, is open to ideas, and has its focus on working people. "I ask myself every day, did I work as hard as I could?" Moment of candor: "I expect to be judged by results."
12:58 p.m.: A woman in the crowd asks for assistance, President embraces her.
12:57 p.m.: Question from a local contractor -- what's the plan for school construction? Answer: Get the money to school districts ASAP. "Hopefully you'll be able to get some work and keep your folks on payroll, and that'll make the difference for the economy."
12:55 p.m.: President pauses the Q&A to announce some breaking news: the Senate has passed the ARRA. And there was much rejoicing.
12:54 p.m.: Question: There's a lot of money in the recovery package, but are there any tax cuts, and how much? Answer: Yup. Working families have got $1000 in tax cuts coming to them, that will "start flowing right away." Not just giving money to the top, and waiting for it to trickle down, but giving it to the middle class.
12:51 p.m.: Question: how can families get by on unemployment insurance? Answer: Unemployment insurance is necessary but it's "not ideal." That's why the recovery plan is designed to create jobs. "People want to work." But it's going to involve all the different legs of the stool -- not just economic recovery, but also stabilizing the financial system, getting credit flowing, and fixing the housing crisis.
12:44 p.m.: Question: Is health care reform a priority? Answer: "People who say the economy comes first, they don't understand that health care is the biggest component of our economy."Also notes that converting medical records to electronic records will improve efficiency, save money, and save lives.
12:39 p.m.: Second question: helping homeowners? Answer: We'll try to make it easier for homeowners to negotiate the terms of their mortgages. "Unless we address it in a serious way, we're not going to be able to get the economy back to where it needs to be."
12:34 p.m.: First question: how much emphasis on higher education and vocational training in the plan? Answer: there's a tax credit; funds for building or improving public colleges and universities; and emphasis on job training.
12:31 p.m.: OK, now time for questions.Full remarks here.
12:30 p.m.:A moment of candor: "No plan is perfect. I can't tell you with one hundred percent certainy that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope." But, that said, "doing nothing is not an option -- you didn't send me to Washington to do nothing."
12:25 p.m.: "Not just make-work jobs," he adds, but rather jobs that lay the groundwork for a stronger economic future. Point: this isn't just a short-term thing.
12:22 p.m.: "We'll put people back to work doing the work that needs to be done." That's what the recovery plan comes down to, really.
12:20 p.m.: President Obama is explaining the different "legs of the stool" -- not just the recovery plan but also the financial stability plan, including relief for homeowners. Gives a nod to Secretary Geithner's announcement this morning.
12:15 p.m.: President is laying out how Ft. Myers has been affected by the downturn. He's talking now about Steve Adkins, the president of a small construction company in Ft. Myers that specializes in school building and repair. Work is slow, and he's been forced to lay off 50 percent of his workers just to make ends meet. The Adkins family -- Steve and Michelle (both are 41) and their children (son Bailey 11; daughter Josie, 7) -- had to sell their home and move into a smaller one.
The whole family is attending the town hall.
The whole family is attending the town hall.
12:13 p.m.: President Obama returned the favor and thanked Gov. Crist. "The thing about governors is they understand our economic crisis in a way people who are a little more removed may not understand."
12:10 p.m.: Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist is introducing the President before the crowd in Fort Myers. "It's important we pass this package," he said (not verbatim). "It's important that we do so to help education. To help our infrastructure. And to provide health care for those who need it the most, the most vulnerable. And Mr. President let me finish by saying we need to do it in a bipartisan way."
11:55 a.m.: Like Elkhart, IN, the town President Obama visited yesterday, Ft. Myers, FL has been hit hard by the economic downturn. It has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country -- and, like much of Florida, the downturn in construction has been particularly devastating. Take a look at what the economic recovery act will do in Florida.
11:45 a.m.: The President is in Ft. Myers, FL, today, where he's due to kick off a town hall meeting on the economic recovery plan in just a little while.