EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - President Barack Obama on Friday called for more steps to help U.S. companies compete overseas, standing in front of an enormous Boeing Dreamliner to summon a bright future for American manufacturing and exports.
Visiting a Boeing plant in Washington state where he watched some of the massive 787s under assembly, Obama pushed for Congress to continue financing a national export credit agency crucial to a goal of doubling exports by 2014. He pointed to the aviation giant as a homegrown company bolstering the U.S. economy by doing business overseas as he sought to make the case that the nation's economy is on the rise.
"The tide is turning. The tide is beginning to turn our way," Obama said in the cavernous Boeing plant before a few hundred cheering workers.
Obama's visit was highly orchestrated to portray the strength of American manufacturing, set in a massive facility where the aviation giant builds the new 787 Dreamliner. After inspecting the aircraft, Obama emerged from the back of a behemoth white Dreamliner to deliver his remarks, walking down the red-carpeted stairs as "Hail to the Chief" blared on overhead speakers.
"You're the most productive on earth. You can compete with anybody. You will outwork anybody," Obama told the assembled workers. "As long as the playing field is level, you can compete with any worker, anywhere, anytime, in China, in Europe, it does not matter. If we have a level playing field, America will always win, because we have the best workers."
The president announced steps to offer financing to U.S. companies to match help their foreign competitors get, with the goal of helping American industries compete.
Shortly before Obama's arrival, the Senate approved legislation to renew a payroll tax cut for 160 million American workers and jobless benefits for millions more, sending key parts of Obama's jobs bill to his desk. The president said he would sign it "right away when I get home."
"It is amazing what happens when Congress focuses on doing the right thing instead of just playing politics," said Obama. "This was a good example, and Congress should take pride in it."
Obama's remarks came at the end of a three-day trip that included heavy fundraising along the West Coast and a stop at a Milwaukee padlock manufacturer. He was heading back to Washington late Friday.
Obama called on Congress to extend the Export-Import Bank's authorization. White House officials said the bank will reach its lending limit at the end of March and Obama pointed to it as a key player in helping promote U.S. exports.
At the same time, the White House announced that Boeing will participate in an Export-Import Bank program that helps companies advance money to suppliers on export-related contracts. Administration officials said Boeing would be committing to more than $700 million in short-term credit this year. Officials said the arrangement would help Boeing compete for foreign clients against European jet maker Airbus.
Facing re-election, Obama has pointed to a decline in unemployment and touted a recent boost in manufacturing jobs as an indicator of an economy on the mend. Republicans seeking the White House have accused Obama of failing to steer the economy out of a deep recession, setting up the health of the nation's economy as a pivotal issue in the 2012 election.
The White House unveiled a number of other steps aimed at boosting foreign trade, including a pilot program called Global Credit Express to help small business exporters apply for up to a 1-year loan of up to $500,000.
In addition to the trade announcement, Obama was holding two fundraisers in the Seattle area Friday, including a fundraising luncheon with 65 people at the Medina home of Jeff Brotman, the co-founder of retailer Costco.
A group of donors, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, had paid $17,900 per ticket.
"What we're starting to see is the incredible resilience of the American people and the American economy," Obama said. He noted that 250,000 jobs were created in the most recent jobs report. "I'm sure some of it had to do with Microsoft or Costco."
"You get a sense as you talk to small businesses, large businesses, people across the country, there is a sense that we may have gotten through the heaviest storms," he said.
Obama also appeared at a reception with 450 supporters in Bellevue, with a musical performance by the band The Head and the Heart. Tickets started at $1,000. Both events supported the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Obama reported Friday that he had raised $29.1 million for his campaign and the Democratic Party in January, putting him ahead of the pace he set in the last quarter of 2011. Obama had raised about $250 million through the end of January.
Obama's visit to the Boeing plant came a few months after the National Labor Relations Board dropped a high-profile lawsuit against the company over allegations it built a nonunion plant in South Carolina to retaliate against past union strikes in Washington state. The president did not mention the case, and spokesman Jay Carney said his visit had nothing to do with it. A Boeing spokesman also said there was no connection.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.