"America is going to come back from this recession stronger than before. That I'm convinced of," Obama said when opening the Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa. "And I'm also convinced that comeback isn't going to be driven by Washington. It's going to be it is going to be driven by folks here in Iowa," as well as in classrooms, ranches, farms, basement workshops and storefronts.
Obama's stop in Iowa Tuesday was the second leg of his three-day, three-state bus tour of the heartland.
But the country's rural economy "still is not as strong as it should be," Obama said, explaining that the Rural Economic Council was looking for ways "to create jobs now."
The council developed a number of proposals, "and we're not wasting time in taking up these proposals," Obama said. "We want to put them to work right now."
The council's recommendations include committing $350 million in Small Business Administration funding to rural small businesses over the next five years, launching a series of conferences to link private equity and venture capital investors with rural start-ups, creating capital marketing teams to advocate federal funding opportunities to private investors interested in making rural investments, making job search information available at 2,800 local U.S. Department of Agriculture offices nationwide, making Health and Human Services loans available to help more than 1,300 Critical Access Hospitals recruit additional staff and helping rural hospitals purchase software and hardware to implement health IT.
None of these initiatives require legislative action, he said. However, Obama repeated his desire for Congress to extend the payroll tax holiday, approve trade agreements, pass a road construction bill and approve legislation providing tax credits for businesses hiring Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans.
"And all of these proposals -- all of these proposals will make a difference for rural communities," Obama said to a round of applause. "The only thing that is holding us back is our politics. The only thing that's preventing us from passing the bills I just mentioned is the refusal of a faction in Congress to put country ahead of party. And that has to stop. Our economy cannot afford it."
As he did in Minnesota, Obama urged the audience to send a message to Congress "that it's time to put the politics aside and get something done."
Obama, participating in a breakout session moderated by SBA Administrator Karen Mills, said he was "just struck by the creativity and the stick-to-it-ness that so many businesses here are exhibiting."
"We genuinely believe that small business is the backbone of America," Obama said. "It's going to be the key for us to be able to put a lot of folks back to work."
When closing the forum, Obama said he didn't know the politics of breakout session participants as they spit-balled ideas about jump-starting the economy and creating jobs.
"What everybody understood was, there are times when government can make a huge difference, there are times where, you know, that SBA office or that [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] can make all the difference in the world. There are some boneheaded things the government's needed that need to be fixed."
He also said breakout participants know that solutions are "not either-or."
"It's a recognition that the prime driver of economic growth and jobs is going to be, are people and the private sector and our businesses -- but, you know what, government can help," he said. "Government can make a difference."