CHATTANOOGA, TN (WAFF) - Speaking to a crowd of more than 2,000 mostly Amazon employees Tuesday afternoon at a Tennessee facility he likened to the "North Pole of the South," President Obama kicked off yet another campaign of what is being touted as a push to strengthen middle class America.
In a speech lacking Washington, nitty-gritty policy details, the president proposed, among other broad ideas, a lower corporate tax rate on businesses willing to compromise on adding to their workforce and a higher minimum wage. The effort, the president said, is to create not just new jobs in the United States, but well-paying jobs that grow the middle class.
"Jobs are about more than just paying the bills. Jobs are about more than just statistics," the president said to a roaring crowd. "We've never just defined having a job as having a paycheck here in America."
The president, introduced by a success story of the Amazon empire, Lydia Flanders, who started with the company as a seasonal employee before being brought on full-time and later joining the company's leadership team, sourced the company and its rapidly expanding business as a prime example of what he believes his new plan can create.
With the current corporate tax rate at 35-percent, the president proposed Tuesday a plan he also presented during his reelection campaign in 2012, a rate for most businesses that is no higher than 28-percent. Manufacturing businesses, by contrast, he wants maxed out at 25-percent.
He also called for a raise in the minimum wage, stating that he wanted it leveled with where it was at the beginning of the Reagan administration
Although he spoke in brief on many topics – notably, bashing the Republican push for his administration to approve a plan that would create jobs from the construction and up-keep of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada (he said the plan would only create about 50 full-time jobs in the long-run) – he focused the majority of his attention on jobs, both new ones needed in the U.S. and ways to stop those being outsourced to other countries.
On the topic of sequestration, the president spoke only briefly.
The defense sector was hit hardest by the across-the-board budget cuts, with many parts of the Tennessee Valley now feeling the initial effects of the furloughs – technical speak for a temporary layoff, sometimes lasting many months. The president called the sequester – a plan the White House initially proposed in hopes of inadvertently forcing Congress to reach a compromise on the budget – a "meat cleaver," saying that keeping it in place is "just slashing all kinds of important investments in education and research and our military."
Joshua Hupp, an Amazon employee at the Chattanooga facility, spoke frankly after the speech. Noting that he didn't vote for President Obama and does consider himself part of the middle class, he said that he still respected the president and "would hope" the president is "doing something to better the economy."
When asked about Congress and if he thought action would finally break through the political gridlock in Washington, he said that he hopes Congress can "come together and help us as a country, because we really need it."
Before his speech, the president, joined by Dave Clark, Amazon's vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, toured parts of the center, a brick-and-mortar of what he compared to the size of 28 football fields in length. As he spoke with some employees who were still working, the president, curious how orders were separated and placed, laughingly said, "I got a bunch of orders in here."