Obama visits Bucks plant, warns against federal shutdown

President Barack Obama listens to a question from one of the workers of Gamesa Technology Corporation, Inc. in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, on Wednesday. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)

President Obama touted his alternative-energy program during a visit Wednesday afternoon to the Gamesa wind-turbine plant in Fairless Hills.

His trip came as the federal government teetered on the brink of a possible shutdown over a breakdown in negotiations over the budget.

Obama warned Congress that a shutdown would harm the economic recovery underway. "I do not want to see Washington politics stand in the way of American progress," the president said during a town-hall meeting at the plant.

He said his administration had acceded to most of the demands of House Republicans for deep cuts in federal spending for the rest of this fiscal year. "We've agreed to a compromise, but somehow we still don't have a deal because people are trying to inject politics" into the discussion, he said, without calling out GOP lawmakers by name.

Obama was at the wind-turbine factory to push his administration's goal to reduce U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025 and to get 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean sources by 2035.

"These are not your father's windmills," Obama told about 400 workers and guests, with a wind-turbine hub and gear box looming behind him. "You guys are not messing around. This is the future of American energy."

The trip was Obama's first trip outside Washington since he made his re-election campaign official Monday with an announcement and video e-mailed to supporters. And it was fitting that the president came to Pennsylvania, a state that Democratic strategists say he must carry to win a second term.

Bucks County, in the 8th Congressional District, is part of the swath of suburban Philadelphia communities that decides statewide elections. In presidential terms and voter registration patterns, the region has been trending Democratic blue, but it is competitive, and a significant shift in some areas in last year's midterms handed the GOP congressional victories and helped elect conservative Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

Obama was relaxed, rolling up his sleeves and bantering in a question-and-answer session, dropping his g's - a return to the campaign mode, though he was at an official presidential event.

"Let me just ask - is there some kind of rule at Gamesa that you have to have a lot of kids?" Obama joked, after one questioner mentioned having 10 children and another mentioned having seven.

Air Force One landed at Philadelphia International at 1:12 p.m., and the presidential party traveled by helicopter north to the event site, on the sprawling grounds of the former U.S. Steel works. Mayor Nutter met the president on the tarmac.

Flailing negotiations over a short-term budget deal hung over the trip. Obama spoke with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) earlier in the day by phone, press secretary Jay Carney said. It was a "good conversation" and the president got an "update on negotiations," Carney said. There were indications of progress, he said, but no deal had been reached.

The federal government will shut down if no deal is reached by midnight Friday. House Republicans are pushing for more cuts in discretionary spending in the budget to fund government operations for the remaining six months of this fiscal year.

Conservatives say the Obama administration should push for more exploration and drilling of domestic sources of petroleum and natural gas instead of worshipping green energy, and a group of tea party activists rallied outside on the roadway leading to the plant.

On the shoulder of the road leading into the industrial complex that houses Gamesa, a handful of placard- and flag-waving tea party activists and a smattering of Obama supporters waited for a glimpse of a motorcade - but one never came, since the president was delivered by helicopter.

At noon, about 35 tea partiers gathered for a news conference to decry what they regard as Obama's discouragement of domestic oil production and his encouragement of "out-of-control spending." Some waved "Don't Tread on Me" flags, while others held signs with slogans such as: "Green is the new Red" and "4 Dollars a Gallon. THANKSABUNCH, BARACK."

"Our purpose is to send a message to the president that to build up our economy, we need to drill more and spend less," said Don Adams, a co-founder and board member of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association.

"Wind energy is not necessarily at this point a very lucrative way to go -- although it is very windy out here today," Adams conceded with a laugh, his hair blowing in the blustery gusts. "He lucked out with this weather."

Adams said it was "distressing" that what he called Obama's "sole focus on renewable energy ignores the fact that we definitely need to drill for oil and that we need oil to make our economy work and to make our economy grow. It will put a lot of people to work and create a lot of revenue."

Obama said that U.S. oil production had never been higher than it is now, but that the nation lacks enough reserves to "drill our way out of the problem." Still, he said, alternative energy and new domestic production of petroleum and natural gas are not "either/or."

Gamesa opened in 2005, lured to Pennsylvania in part by a $10 million state grant championed by former Gov. Ed Rendell. It also is in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, so the company pays no state corporate taxes or local property taxes through 2019. In 2009, Gamesa received $2.8 million from the economic stimulus legislation.

The plant employs about 300 people in Falls Township, and another 300 at a plant in Ebensburg, Pa., Cambria County. All told, Gamesa has 900 employees in the U.S., including white-collar staff in Philadelphia.

 


Contact politics writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.