CLAYCOMO, Mo. (AP) - President Barack Obama applauded the resurgence of auto manufacturing Friday at a Ford Motor Co. plant near Kansas City as he urged Congress not to hamper the nation's economic recovery with threats of a partial government shutdown.
He recalled that when he became president, plants were shutting down, people were losing their homes and the auto industry was faltering. Obama said Ford was "standing on its own two feet" but it knew that if other U.S. auto manufacturers faltered, the company would suffer because suppliers would go under. Obama bailed General Motors and Chrysler out using some of the funds allocated to help the financial system.
"We bet on the America worker, we bet on you and now that bet is paying off," Obama said. "You have trouble making (vehicles) fast enough."
Ford announced a $1.1 billion expansion at its Kansas City Assembly Plant in 2011 that included construction of a new, integrated stamping plant in Liberty. Earlier this year, Ford said it was adding a third shift and 900 jobs because of demand for its trucks. The company, which received a state incentive package, also said it was adding 1,100 workers to prepare for introduction of a new full-size van.
"When the economy was crashing and our industry was hanging on by a thread, Obama put together the stimulus package, and it helped the auto industry bounce back," said plant worker Rickey Leathers, 54, of Grandview, who recently saw two of his relatives get hired at the plant. "We think that's a good thing."
Obama said the new workers will create a ripple effect across the economy, helping suppliers, distributors and restaurants in the community.
"When the middle class does better," he said, "we all do better."
But he said the debate going on in Congress "isn't meeting the test of helping middle-class families."
The Republican-led House passed a bill Friday to keep the government running while gutting funding for Obama's health care law. The health care provision is sure to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Obama said he would veto it if it didn't. He said Republicans must stop focusing on defunding his health care law, pass a budget and raise the nation's borrowing limit.
Obama said refusing to raise the debt ceiling is like buying a pickup truck and then refusing to make the payments. He said when individuals don't pay their bills, "collectors start calling and your credit goes south." When a country doesn't pay its bills, Obama said, the same thing happens: Interest rates would rise, and Ford would have fewer buyers for its vehicles.
Missouri Congressman Sam Graves described the health care law as "an unmitigated, disastrous train wreck" in a written statement explaining why he voted for the budget measure that would defund it.
"It's bad for the American people, it threatens middle-class jobs, and it hurts our economy," he said of the law.
But Hilda Fuentes, the CEO for Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, which serves the poor, uninsured and underinsured, praised health care reform while waiting to hear the president speak.
"It is my hope," she said, "that our nation will continue on its current path and continue to choose to improve lives."