Green Bay Press Gazette - Obama Strikes Back on Economic Reform
McCain helped create financial crisis, Resch crowd told
BY MALAVIKA JAGANNATHAN
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama slammed rival John McCain for being a latecomer to reform before laying out his vision for streamlining government and managing the economy.
Obama's 45-minute speech Monday on government and regulatory reform in front of about 7,000 people at the Resch Center came as Congress considers a $700 billion bailout of bad loans. Although the Illinois senator urged bipartisan support for the rescue proposal to fix the imminent crisis, he also said such a plan would need accountability.
"We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight," Obama said. "No oversight and no accountability is exactly what got us in this mess in the first place."
Four days after McCain and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin used the same location to tout their economic platform, Obama outlined a series of proposals he says will prevent future financial crises from reaching the bailout stage. The two face off in the Nov. 4 general election.
"For too long the doors of Washington have been open to an army of lobbyists and special interests," Obama said. "We must reform waste and abuse in the government."
Obama said he would ban administration aides from working on issues on behalf of a former employer for at least two years and permanently prevent them from lobbying his administration after they leave. He also would slash government contracts that eat away at budgets without producing results.
Standing in a similar spot where his Republican rivals criticized him last week, Obama retaliated by saying McCain was making up for 26 years in Washington in 26 hours by changing his positions.
"Senator McCain has fought time and time again (against regulations)," Obama said. "His economic plan was written by the architect of the regulatory steps that caused this situation."
He also linked McCain's campaign to lobbyists for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sounding strangely similar to Thursday when both McCain and Palin drew connections between Obama and the mortgage companies they said began the financial meltdown.
In an effort to promote more transparency in government Obama suggested putting meetings between governmental agencies and lobbyists online for public viewing. He also said he wants a more streamlined bureaucracy.
"I'm not a Democrat that believes we should befriend every government program just because it's there," Obama said, pledging to go through the federal budget line by line as president to eliminate programs that do not work.
Obama outlined principles in his regulatory reforms including overseeing financial institutions that borrow from the government, improving transparency for financial disclosure, streamlining regulatory agencies, cracking down on trading activities that border market manipulation and establishing a market advisory group.
Perry and Tracy Andropolis of Sturgeon Bay said the open government message is a welcome change from the last eight years of the more closed-off Bush administration.
"I like his ideas about total transparency," Tracy Andropolis said. "Restricting the lobbyists and fighting for us that's what government is supposed to be about."
The McCain campaign didn't wait to hit back on Obama, saying his speech was more rhetoric than substance.
"He reiterates six principles that are the policy equivalent of puppies, kittens and sunshine," Nancy Pfotenhauer, a policy adviser to McCain, said in a conference call. "He emphasizes things that everyone agrees on hides behind the safety of things that are non-controversial."
She compared Obama's speech to McCain's policy speech on Friday, in which McCain outlined a plan for a mortgage and financial trust that would step in before companies became insolvent.
McCain and Palin spoke to 10,000 people on Thursday night, but the Arizona senator saved his policy-heavy speech for a Friday appearance in front of about 180 members of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. About 7,000 people attended Obama's midmorning rally.
But many of the Obama supporters at the rally said they thought their candidate was in a better position to address the economic issues they were facing in their own lives.
Meghan McKeefry, a 23-year-old recent college graduate from Green Bay, said she looked for a job for more than six months before finding one that offered benefits equal to her degree.
"I applied for so many jobs. I had to turn a lot down because they didn't offer health care or offered $8.50 an hour because a lot of employers can't afford to pay more," McKeefry said.
Counting herself among the lucky, McKeefry said it's her generation who will suffer as local jobs disappear and sees Obama's willingness to negotiate better trade agreements as the answer.
The back-to-back visits from the campaigns underscore Northeastern Wisconsin's importance in the general election. In the latest poll, Obama leads McCain by one percentage point in the state, setting up a fight for Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes and more visits from both sides in the coming weeks.