The president's State of the Union address on January 24 gave me an opportunity to remind him of the plight of the people of Pike County, which has the highest unemployment rate in Ohio at 14.3 percent. The national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent.
As he passed me on his way to the podium in the House Chamber, I urged the president to please keep working to help private industry create jobs through the American Centrifuge project.
"You know we will," he said.
The project would support creating nearly 4,000 jobs in Ohio.
Jobs are one of my top priorities, but this project is also important to our national defense. The American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon would provide the uranium needed to supply tritium, which is a key component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and must be replenished regularly.
The project is also extremely important to U.S. efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If we are to persuade other nations to not enrich uranium, we must be able to provide it in a way limited to peaceful purposes.
The American Centrifuge project would utilize the only U.S.-developed and owned uranium enrichment technology. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I cringe at the notion that we might end up dependent on some other country to supply us. It could handcuff our foreign policy, weaken our military posture, and put at risk American business interests worldwide.
The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed a $300 million research, development, and demonstration program that could lead to a loan guarantee needed to bring this technology to fruition.
Right now, the entire country is worried about jobs and the economy. Everyone, it seems, knows someone who has been laid off, had work hours cut, lost their home, or is thinking about filing for bankruptcy.
This reminds me of the state that our Union was in 32 years ago, when Ronald Reagan was running for the presidency. At that time, our economy was in the tank from high unemployment, runaway inflation, and interest rates that nobody could afford.
People back then wondered whether the country was in a recession or had slipped into a depression. Reagan crystallized an answer in just a handful of words: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours."
As President Obama was leaving after his speech, he passed by me again.
Don't forget about those jobs in Southern Ohio, I said.
"I haven't," he said.
And neither will I.