In Pa., Obama repeats pledge for 'year of action'
WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. - President Obama came to U.S. Steel's Irvin plant Wednesday, one stop on a four-city tour to kindle support for the agenda he offered in Tuesday's State of the Union address.
After a brief tour of the sprawling West Mifflin plant, he signed a memorandum directing his treasury secretary to establish rules for a new retirement plan, designed to make it easier for workers with modest incomes to begin saving.
After a flight from Maryland, where he touted his call for a higher minimum wage, he arrived at the plant and was greeted by Mario Longhi, president and chief executive of U.S. Steel; Anthony Bridge, the firm's vice president of engineering, research and development; and Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International.
Sporting a white hard hat with his name on the front, the president then headed off on a plant tour conducted by Amy Smith-Yoder, the plant manger, and Kevin McKelvey, president of USW Local 2227.
They led him past a cold reducing mill, a large bank of machines that pare the thickness of steel sheets destined for products such as home appliances. Over the din of the machinery, he spoke with a handful of plant workers before heading back to a makeshift stage where plant employees in orange and white hard hats formed a backdrop along with a large red generator rotor, roughly 12 feet in diameter, and large gleaming rolls of steel.
To his left was a large banner, hanging from a crane, that proclaimed "OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL" in white letters on a blue background.
His speech reprised highlights of his Tuesday night address with renewed vows to make this a year of action, with or without the cooperation of his congressional adversaries.
"This can be a breakthrough year for America," he repeated.
"I don't know what their plans are, but I choose a year of action," he said, adding: "The truth is the middle class has been taking it on the chin since way before the economic crisis hit."
To remedy that, he urged the lawmakers to pass a minimum-wage increase, while pointing to his executive order raising the wage floor for federal contractors. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
He ended his speech moving to a desk by the podium where he signed an order establishing the new retirement vehicle that he had promoted in his speech.
The idea is to offer a "starter" account to let people start saving even if they cannot afford the large initial investment often needed for a private, commercial retirement account.
Dubbed "MyRA," the program will operate like a Roth IRA, so contributions to the plan will be made with after-tax dollars. That means account-holders could withdraw the funds at any time without paying additional taxes.
Initially a pilot program, the accounts should be available through some employers by the end of 2014, the White House said. Investors can keep the accounts if they switch jobs or convert them into private accounts.
Obama and his entourage flew to the plant site by helicopter from the 911th Air Base adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport. Hitching a ride with him from Washington were Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D., Pa.).
Among the other local figures in the audience were county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who listened to his speech in the Capitol Tuesday night.
Also on hand in the chilly plant floor were Homestead Mayor Betty Esper and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Fetterman had arrived in the frigid weather wearing shorts. At the request of plant officials, he donned a pair of orange safety pants.