Obama: Automakers inspire in face of ’headwinds’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Distancing himself from new economic sputters, President Barack Obama on Saturday declared that recent “headwinds” were the result of high gasoline prices, Japan’s disastrous earthquake and jitters over a European fiscal crisis. He cited the U.S. auto industry’s resurgence as an inspiration for a broader recovery.

“We’re a people who don’t give up, who do big things, who shape our own destiny,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

The message was taped Friday during Obama’s visit to a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio. And the address was hardly different than the remarks he offered to about 350 Chrysler workers.

The White House has spent practically every day this week drawing attention to the industry comeback and taking credit for Obama’s unpopular decision to bail out Chrysler and General Motors and guide them through bankruptcy in 2009.

Like Friday’s comments to Chrysler workers, Obama’s address Saturday did not mention the bleak unemployment numbers announced Friday for the month of May. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the economy last month created only a net 54,000 jobs and unemployment inched up to 9.1 percent.

“We’re facing some tough headwinds,” Obama said. “Lately, it’s high gas prices, the earthquake in Japan and unease about the European fiscal situation. That will happen from time to time.”

The Bush and Obama administrations pumped $80 billion in taxpayer money into Chrysler and GM, with Obama guiding the companies into bankruptcy. The companies are now reporting profits, Chrysler has paid back all but $1.3 billion of its federal infusion, and the White House declared this week that the overall loss to taxpayers will be $14 billion, far less than initially expected.

Delivering the Republican address, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee cast the Obama administration as too friendly to labor unions and said industries are more likely to flourish in environments where unions don’t hold as much sway. He noted that foreign auto companies like Nissan and Volkswagen have chosen to set up plants in his home state, a state with right-to-work laws that don’t require employees to join unions or pay union dues.

He cited the case of Boeing, which was accused last month by the National Labor Relations Board of retaliating against union workers in Washington state who went on strike in 2008 by locating a new assembly line for its 787 aircraft in South Carolina, a state with right-to-work laws. The NLRB is seeking a court order that would force Boeing to return all 787 assembly work to Washington.

“Our goal should be to make it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs in this country,” Alexander said. “Giving workers the right to join or not to join a union helps to create a competitive environment in which more manufacturers like Nissan and Boeing can make here what they sell here.”

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Online:

Obama address: www.whitehouse.gov

GOP address: www.youtube.com/gopweeklyaddress

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