Obama talks economy, jobs and politics in Cannon Falls

President Obama speaks to crowds on Monday in Cannon Falls, Minn.  The event kicked off a three-day bus tour of the Midwest.

President Obama speaks to crowds on Monday in Cannon Falls, Minn. The event kicked off a three-day bus tour of the Midwest.

Megan Nicolai

In an idyllic park in Cannon Falls, Minn., President Barack Obama kicked off his three-day tour of the Midwest Monday.

More than 500 people gathered next to the Cannon River in the small town about an hour south of the Twin Cities to hear the president speak about the economy and politics on Capitol Hill. The tour, made up of town-hall style gatherings that allow residents to ask the president questions, will also travel to Iowa and Illinois.

It was the presidentâÄôs second visit to Minnesota in less than a year. Obama held a rally on the University of Minnesota campus Oct. 23, 2010.

âÄúIâÄôm not here just to enjoy the nice weather,âÄù Obama said. âÄúIâÄôm here to enlist you in a fight.âÄù

Obama spoke for more than 20 minutes then answered the questions from nine randomly-selected people for 40 minutes.

He touched on everything from the woes on Wall Street to the recent debt ceiling debate, but focused for a while on issues plaguing rural and farming communities across the nation.

 âÄúOne of our great strengths as a country is agriculture,âÄù Obama said.

The federal government has given nearly $5 billion in assistance to small- and medium-sized farms, the president said.

Though he did not name any congressmen specifically, he took Republicans to task for what he considers a failure of leadership during the debt ceiling debate that wrapped up Aug. 2.

Obama mentioned several of the programs that were protected under the deal, including healthcare, and programs such as Pell grants âÄî all of which were potential candidates for the chopping block.

Obama also brought up ideas to bolster the economy like renewing payroll tax cuts, which would give the average family $1,000. That extra cash would provide consumers the spending money they need, he said.

Congress could also alter trade agreements to increase U.S. exports, he said.

âÄúThereâÄôs no shortage of ideas to put Congress to work right now,âÄù Obama said.

Obama asserted that the debt debate was not based in finances, but was a âÄúpolitical crisis.âÄù

âÄúThereâÄôs nothing wrong with America that canâÄôt be fixed,âÄù Obama said. âÄúWhatâÄôs broken is our politics.âÄù

A bustling town

More than 1,300 people lined up to receive a ticket to the event Sunday, some as early as 1 a.m. Katie Hoffman, a Cannon Falls resident, said the buzz around the town of 4,200 was very exciting.

It was the first presidential visit to the town since Calvin Coolidge dedicated a Civil War memorial of a local war hero in 1928.

As attendees filtered into the venue at Lower HannahâÄôs Bend Park, many expressed a desire to hear clear solutions to issues that had fostered strong debate in Congress and across the nation.

âÄúIâÄôd like him to talk about job creation,âÄù said Rochester resident Julie Streyle, alongside her children, Michael and Morgan.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said that the presidentâÄôs tour was necessary to underscore the idea that rural and farming areas are an important part of the economy.

âÄúI think this meant a lot to the people here,âÄù Franken said. âÄúThey need to hear him. ItâÄôs good they got to hear his message.âÄù

State Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, echoed FrankenâÄôs thoughts.

âÄúWhat we need is to restore public confidence,âÄù Howe said. âÄúThis goes a long way toward making people believe in themselves and believe in America.âÄù

The last person to ask a question âÄî a young girl from the crowd âÄî asked Obama, âÄúWhy Cannon Falls?âÄù

âÄúI had heard that Cannon Falls had some of the smartest, best-looking kids around,âÄù he answered. âÄúAnd you have confirmed the rumor about the outstanding children of Cannon Falls.âÄù