President Barack Obama’s plans for expanded child care tax credits and other middle-class benefits warmed a big crowd in Lawrence on Thursday, even as they continued to face a chilly reception from Republicans in Washington.
“Middle-class economics works,” the president told several thousand people at the University of Kansas, pointing to the recent uptick in jobs and payrolls. “The ruling on the field stands.”
The Democrat’s visit was the second stop on a tour designed to bolster support for proposals aimed at low- and middle-income Americans, including paid sick leave, child care credits and tuition-free community college. The first stop came Wednesday in Boise, Idaho — like Kansas, a conservative state.
But few Republicans appeared convinced Thursday.
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“I couldn’t agree more that these must be our top priorities in Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas in a statement. “I disagree with his ideas on how we get there.”
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas was even harsher. “The American people … want real solutions to the nation’s problems, not tired ideological proposals,” his statement said.
While Obama urged support Thursday for several proposals contained in his State of the Union address, he paid particular attention to child care. He began his day visiting with children at a Lawrence Head Start center, and he was introduced by a single mother now studying at KU.
“Affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education — these aren’t just nice-to-haves, this is a must-have,” he said.
The White House has proposed a variety of child care-related initiatives, including a nearly threefold increase in the child care tax credit to $3,000 a year for a child under the age of 5.
Most experts say the credit would not come close to covering the full cost of day care for young children, which can often cost $1,000 a month or more.
But it was quite popular in Lawrence on Thursday.
“We need help,” said Nancy Schneider-Wilson of Lawrence. “I went broke putting my kids in day care so I could keep working and still feel that impact.”
Obama wants to pay for the expanded credit by raising taxes for some higher-income Americans.
“Let’s have a tax code,” he said, “that truly helps working Americans.”
He then offered to work with Republicans in Washington on child care and other middle-class benefits.
“Tell me what you want to do,” he said. “Let’s get to ‘yes’ on helping more families get by. I want to get to ‘yes’ on child care.”
But his statements appeared to anger some Republicans, who accused Obama of obstruction.
“Delivering empty rhetoric and misleading proposals are hallmarks of Obama’s presidency,” said a statement from Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short, “but the reality is while he’s out telling the country he wants to get to ‘yes,’ back in Washington he’s threatening to veto one bipartisan bill after another.”
Obama’s speech wasn’t limited to child care concerns. The biggest applause came after he urged Congress to pass a law guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work.
“I mean, come on now. It’s 2015,” he said. “This should be sort of a no-brainer.”
He also urged Congress to increase the minimum wage and work to improve the nation’s technical infrastructure, including digital networks.
“Lawrence gets it,” he said. “That’s why you’re encouraging private companies to compete against one another to offer high-speed broadband at better prices.”
The KU stop was the first visit to the school by a sitting president since 1911.
As he did in an earlier visit to the state, Obama made much of his family’s connections to Kansas. His mother and maternal grandparents were Kansans, although he never lived in the state.
“I’m a Kansas guy,” Obama said. He called former Sen. Bob Dole a “great American.”
But he also noted his poor electoral support in Kansas. The state voted for his opponent in both presidential elections and hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.
“But that’s OK,” he said as the audience laughed. “I might have won sections of Lawrence. That’s possible. That’s a possibility.”
Dallas Moore, a student from Burlington, Kan., said Obama remains popular on campus.
“Free community college is really going to help out people who are really in need,” he said after the speech.
Courtney Eiterich of Lenexa endorsed Obama’s middle-class initiatives. “People are struggling,” she said. “They really need to find a place to get a leg up.”
There was faint heckling, barely acknowledged by the president or his audience, from someone yelling: “No more deportations!”
Obama seemed to enjoy bantering with members of the audience in the blustery Anschutz Sports Pavilion near Allen Fieldhouse. He began with the familiar “rock chalk” campus chant.
The president also talked about his earlier conversations with the children at the day care center, marveling at their knowledge of his job.
“They all say, ‘I know you,’” he said. “‘I see you on TV.’”
The quick visit to Kansas began Wednesday night in Topeka, where Obama met briefly with Gov. Sam Brownback before traveling to Lawrence, where he spent the night at a Holiday Inn.
Reporters spotted the president in a small workout room Thursday morning before he began his public schedule. He also met briefly with the KU basketball team.
Following his speech, Obama returned to Topeka and chatted with Kansas National Guard soldiers before boarding Air Force One.
He left Kansas and returned to Washington — where further legislative scuffles await — shortly after 1 p.m.
President Barack Obama meets with Bill Self and KU basketball team. | B1