Look for jobs focus during Obama visit

Source: Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2012

President to discuss wind energy in Newton, make campaign stop in D.M.

President Barack Obama will follow two scripts on his trip to Iowa on Thursday.

He will visit a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Newton to warn how the pending loss of two wind energy tax credits will hurt Iowa’s economy, White House aides told The Des Moines Register.

Then he will do a campaign event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, where he will be free to rip GOP rival Mitt Romney. The Democrats’ line of attack lately: Romney was a corporate buyout specialist, and his profits-over-people philosophy will have severe consequences for the middle class if he’s elected.

Both events were most likely designed with Nov. 6 in mind, political strategists in Iowa said. The economy is the locked-horns issue of the 2012 general election.

Obama’s event in Newton will be closed to the public. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. at the fairgrounds event, and it will be open to anyone until the venue is full.

First on the agenda on the presidential visit will be item No. 4 on Obama’s five-point “to-do list” for Congress: Renew two wind-related tax credits.

The president will speak at TPI Composites, a blade plant that employs around 700 workers in Newton, said Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy policy.

Obama will drive home the importance of the Production Tax Credit, a lucrative incentive for those who build and operate wind farms, Zichal said. This is a big deal in the wind industry because it creates the market for more turbines and towers.

He will also talk up the merits of the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, which goes to companies like TPI that build wind energy parts.

With the threat of both tax credits expiring at the end of the year, orders for turbine production for next year have fallen off, and jobs are at risk, wind advocates said. When the tax credit lapsed in 2009, wind projects faltered.

“This isn’t guesswork,” Zichal said. “We know from the past that when these credits lapse, orders for wind turbines slow, installations drop and job losses occur.”

Iowa may be hit harder than other states simply because it has more to lose, Zichal said. Only Texas produces more wind power than the Hawkeye State.

But Iowa ranks first in overall wind energy jobs, employing between 6,000 and 7,000 workers.

After the Wall Street Journal criticized the Production Tax Credit in two editorials, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad wrote a letter to the editor calling the newspaper’s comments “off the mark.”

“The wind power industry is an American success story that is helping us build our manufacturing base, create jobs, lower energy costs and strengthen our energy security,” wrote Branstad, who added that Iowa has over 215 wind-related businesses operating in 55 counties.

Both Democrats and Republicans have historically backed the Production Tax Credit, and all seven members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are doing everything they can to save it, said Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association.

A resolution introduced in the GOP-led House in November to extend it for four years had 97 co-sponsors, including 21 Republicans. It also has support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Governors Association.

But other than in a recent subcommittee meeting in Congress, there has been no progress on keeping the Production Tax Credit in place, Prior said.

One reason for the lack of action on the tax credits: political head-butting. Another is an abundance of natural gas that has triggered a plunge in prices, making it as affordable as wind energy. Natural gas has advantages over wind: It can be stored, unlike wind, and it already has its own pipeline system.

Natural gas interests have helped block renewal of the tax credit, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Latham has said.

The Obama administration supports natural gas production, too, White House aides say. But they say there’s an argument for diverse energy sources and for preservation of an industry that’s been built up since Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley started the Production Tax Credit in 1992.

Obama re-election staffers didn’t disclose Monday what Obama would say at his event at the Knapp Animal Learning Center at the State Fairgrounds on Thursday. But for the last week, the campaign has been highlighting Romney’s record at Bain Capital, noting he holds it up as his chief qualification to be president.

Campaign aides have cited examples of workers losing their jobs while Romney and his investors made millions. Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver did an event at GST Steel in Kansas City, Mo., saying the company closed after Bain acquired it and loaded it up with debt.

“Romney economics is about doing whatever it takes for him and his investors to profit, regardless of the cost to workers, companies and communities,” said Erin Seidler, Obama’s Iowa campaign spokeswoman. “He believes in two sets of rules — one for himself and others at the top, and another for everyone else. This would have severe consequences for Iowa’s middle-class families.”

Some Democrats — Cory Booker (mayor of Newark, N.J., and frequent Obama surrogate), Steve Rattner (investor and former car czar) and Harold Ford (former congressman from Tennessee) — have expressed uneasiness about this line of attack, saying it appears anti-business

Republicans push back, noting that Bain Capital, which Romney co-founded in 1984, isn’t a leveraged buyout specialist. It’s a private equity firm that invests money on behalf of others — and the majority of the money it invests comes from retirement accounts and pension funds of people like teachers, police, firefighters and other middle-class Americans.

The Romney campaign said Monday that Obama and his attack machine are trying to distract from a “failed record of wasteful spending and crony capitalism by launching an attack on free enterprise.”

“The president should be more concerned with helping the 23 million Americans who are struggling for work,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman. “Mitt Romney has the experience and pro-growth plan to promote job creation and get our economy back on track.”