Welcome President Obama! While You're In Town, Here's Some Ideas By Peter Livingston














President Barack Obama is planning a visit to the Buffalo area tomorrow, part of a bus trip through New York. The last time he came to Buffalo the highlight of his trip was a visit to Duff's for wings. He only spent a few hours in town - he is responsible for a massive amount of federal government services, after all. I assume he will spend a similar amount of time here on this trip.

Obama's last trip to Buffalo was a late show punch line. During the President's impromptu stop for chicken wings, a local Duff's patron told him "You're a hottie with a smokin' little body." Let's hope she's nowhere near the motorcade this year. There's more to Western New York than deep fried foods and leering ladies.

Personally, I would love to show the President more of what our region has to offer, but that tour would take weeks. Instead, I offer five suggested stops:

1. University at Buffalo - There's no question the President should visit UB, and that's the only part of his Buffalo schedule we know for certain so far. UB is usually a good example of tax dollar investment. The school trains our future workforce, promotes innovation and serves as an incubator for ideas that can be adopted by the private sector. UB is a good example of giving people a hand up, as opposed to a hand out. Instead of rewarding businesses for failing, maybe the President should focus on making education more affordable for successful students.

2. Ford Motor Company - When the federal government spent trillions bailing out businesses that were too big to fail, it did not bail out Ford. Ford made appropriate changes to its business model and practices throughout the decade, allowing it to survive the recession. Companies that did not make such adaptations, including Ford's competitors, were rewarded with truckloads of taxpayer dollars. While the money helped many of them weather the storm, it did not necessarily help them make long term changes to their business practices. Money is not always the solution. Just ask the Buffalo Public Schools.

3. Chautauqua Institution - President Clinton has visited the Chautauqua Institution several times, including a 1996 visit while in office. The Chautauqua Institution is a center of culture, as well as innovative thought. I have no reason for President Obama to visit Chautauqua, other than it seems like something a President should do. And maybe some Clinton will rub off on him.

4. Kittinger Furniture Company - The Kittinger Furniture Company is a well-known Buffalo company that originally manufactured paper. Over the years, it evolved into the furniture company that is known the world over. It is a good example of how a business can survive difficult times without a bailout. Also, the conference room table in the White House, as well as many other furniture pieces, were made by Kittinger.

5. Wegmans - Wegmans is a well respected grocery chain and viewed as one of the best places to work. Wegmans provides health insurance to part-time employees who work more than twenty hours per week. In 2015, in response to Obamacare, Wegmans will only offer health insurance to employees working more than thirty hours per week, as required by law. Those working less than thirty hours per week can seek coverage under Medicaid. Wegmans believes those employees will be better off under Medicaid. So, in a bizarre consequence of Obama's plan, employees will receive better coverage if they work less and the Administration will shift the costs from business to taxpayers. Companies like Forever 21 and Universal Orlando have done the same. Maybe this visit will help the President understand why people have concerns about Obamacare.

A good listening tour might re-energize the President. But I don't think listening is what this tour is about. Rather, I think that the theme of the tour is the blame game.

Mid-term elections are just over a year away. Despite some good economic news, people are still concerned about the economy. Unemployment remains high, increasing interest rates might cause a slow-down in the housing market and, despite the President's assertions to the contrary, people do not think the high price of gasoline is a good thing.

Rather than tout results, I anticipate the President will lay blame. He will blame Congress for being too concerned about the national debt and for not allowing him to spend more. He will blame big business for not creating more jobs. And, of course, he will blame George W. Bush, without acknowledging any of his own shortcomings.

It is past time to shift from blaming others to working on long term solutions. As a nation, we want to see our leaders work together, not bicker constantly. It is clear both sides have sharply divergent views on spending; it is time to find common ground on other topics. Work on business reforms that encourage companies to thrive in the long term, rather than make fast money on speculation. Support measures that make corporations stronger, rather than just the people that run them. Determine what government regulations actually led to the mortgage crisis.

These are all pro-business areas that are also pro jobs. There is agreement across the aisle that we could use less regulation. Check out the new bipartisan Regulatory Improvement Act of 2013 - that sounds like a good place to start.

Rather than a talking tour, I would like to see the President go on a listening tour. It would be nice to see Congressman Collins join him on this tour. They could learn from each other, or at least gain a better understanding. They certainly could learn a lot from the people that they meet along the way.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I also comment occasionally on Twitter @PRLivingston.




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