In Mountain View on Monday morning (Sept. 26), President Obama aimed to convince viewers of his town hall meeting hosted by LinkedIn that he can lead the country through its myriad economic problems.
A crowd of several hundred was assembled by LinkedIn at the Computer History Museum near Google, including some LinkedIn users who had been flown in from around the country. Air Force One landed at Moffett Field Sunday evening, where Mayor Jac Siegel met Obama as he came off the plane. He attended two fundraisers on Sunday evening, one at the Woodside home of Symantec chairman John Thompson and another at Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Atherton home.
Obama's message focused on the benefits of investing in infrastructure and schools to create jobs with the American Jobs Act. He made a case for increasing taxes on wealthier individuals to maintain the public institutions that made the country great.
"If we don't improve our education system, we will all fall behind," Obama said. In math and science, "we are slipping behind other developing countries."
"Are you going to have enough engineers?" in Silicon Valley, he asked.
The tax reform issue is also an issue of fairness, the president said.
"Somebody who is making $50,000 a year as a teacher shouldn't be paying a higher effective tax rate than somebody like myself or Jeff," Obama said, referring to Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, who hosted the event.
Obama's been accused of engaging in "class warfare" with his proposals to tax the rich, but during Monday's talk he stressed a pro-businesses stance.
"No part of the country better represents the essence of America than here," Obama said of Silicon Valley. "What you see is entrepreneurship and dynamism, an optimism, a belief that if you've got a good idea and you're willing to put in the sweat and blood and tears to make it happen, that not only can you succeed for yourself but grow the economy for everybody."
Some audience members who asked questions were unemployed because of unfortunate circumstances but one said he was unemployed by choice, able to retire early after having been an early employee of a successful startup search engine "down the street" -- Google.
"Would you please raise my taxes?" said the man, later identified as Doug Edwards, former director of consumer marketing and brand management. "I would very much like the country to continue to invest in things like Pell Grants and infrastructure and job training programs that made it possible for me to get where I am. It kills me to see Congress not supporting the expiration of the tax cuts" on wealthy Americans.
"As you just pointed out, we're successful because somebody invested in our education," Obama said. He referenced his wife, Michelle, whose father was an engineer at a local water company and had never attended college but was able to send Michelle to Princeton University.
"The most important thing we can do right now is pass this jobs bill," Obama said, adding that it would increase gross domestic product by 2 percent and add $1.9 million jobs in the U.S. in teaching, construction and public safety, creating "ripple effects" in the economy. There are up to 27 million unemployed in the U.S. if the marginally employed and long-term unemployed are included.
Throughout the talk, Obama referenced one audience member's recently unemployed 65-year-old mother, a food service worker in Ohio.
"She wants to know, when can she get a job, and what's going to happen to Social Security and Medicare?" the woman asked.
"You can tell your mom that Medicare and Social Security will be there for her, guaranteed," Obama said. "There are no proposals out there that would affect folks about to get Social Security and Medicare." He said that reforms would be necessary to pay for both programs in the future and proposed the removal of a $100,000 cap on the amount of taxes wealthier individuals pay for Social Security. He said that would contribute significantly to keeping the program afloat as fewer workers are paying in to keep more seniors out of poverty.
"Your mom is going to be more likely to be hired" under the American Jobs Act, Obama said. The resulting increase in employment would mean more customers for other businesses, including the food industry. And when explaining why wealthy Americans should have higher tax rates, he said, "If people like myself aren't paying a little more in taxes, then the only way you balance the budget is on the backs of folks like your mom, who end up paying a lot more for Medicare and they can't afford it."
Part of Obama's jobs bill, which would cost $447 billion and be funded through tax hikes on the nation's wealthiest, would help military veterans obtain jobs.
Obama spoke about meeting a former U.S. Army medic who worked "under the most extreme circumstances" with wounded soldiers in Iraq. But "when he went back to nursing school, had to start as if he had never been involved in medicine at all. He had to take all the same classes and take the same debt burdens from taking those classes."
Obama proposed policies that would allow such veterans to use their skills from the military "right away" in new jobs. "Let's give them a certification; let's give them a credential that helps them do that," he said.
A question submitted through LinkedIn's website from Marla Hughes, a Florida business owner, asked what Obama would do about "onerous" regulations and taxes, which are the "worst enemies" of a small business.
"We've actually cut taxes on small businesses 16 times since I went into office," Obama said, adding that there are "tax breaks for hiring, tax breaks for investment in capital and no capital gains taxes on startups."
He said that while some regulations of businesses may no longer be necessary, he would not compromise on safety and environmental regulations, or on regulations to prevent another financial crisis. Regulations should make sure "your water is clean, your food is safe to eat and the peanut butter you feed your kids is not going to be contaminated," he said.
Obama departed from Moffett Field aboard Air Force One at 12:23 p.m., and headed to southern California for fundraising appearances later today. The president was set to speak at three campaign events -- one in San Diego and two in Los Angeles.
Before boarding the plane, Obama stopped to greet the family of a retiring Air Force One crew member and pose for a photo. He shook the hands of the crew member, his wife and three children.
Afterward, the wife, who declined to give her full name but said her husband is based out of Fresno, said she was nervous to meet the president.
"He's a very nice man," she said. "Very proud of him as our president, and I told him that."