MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) – President Barack Obama was in Mountain View on Monday to promote a jobs bill that he says would put unemployed Americans back to work, and while he has yet to sell Congress on the $447 billion plan, some who were in the audience went home a little more hopeful about the future.
Ester Abeja, a recently unemployed IT analyst from Chicago, Ill., was one of those people. She asked the president about whether there are programs to help the unemployed keep their skills up to date so that they can remain marketable and eventually get hired.
“Passing the American Jobs Act is going to be important,” Obama told her during the town hall meeting. “There’s legislation in there that says you can’t be discriminated against just because you don’t have a job.”
He advised her to take classes or online training to keep her skill sets sharp and said that the government’s decision in the last two and a half years to direct money away from the student loan program and toward Pell Grants would help Abeja and others like her to return to school without incurring huge debt loads.
Abeja was one of about 300 people in the audience – the majority of them LinkedIn employees and members – for the forum, “Putting America Back to Work: LinkedIn Presents a Town Hall with President Obama” at the Computer History Museum.
She said she was one of the lucky few selected by LinkedIn to come to Mountain View and directly ask the president a question related to job creation and the economy.
Abeja seemed pleased with the president’s response.
“Hopefully I’ll get hired,” she said. “I’m definitely going to do something to stay in touch with my skills, whether I go back to school or volunteer.”
PICTURES: President Obama’s Bay Area Visit
Obama arrived Sunday afternoon for a series of fundraising events and to attend Monday’s town hall meeting hosted by Mountain View-based LinkedIn.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner introduced Obama, and said the American Jobs Act would help lower the 9.1 percent unemployment rate by leading the 14 million people who are unemployed to the 3.2 million jobs that are available.
“We have everything we need to begin to put this country back to work—the raw materials, the basic building blocks and, perhaps most importantly, the will of a nation,” Weiner said. “What we need is the way.”
Obama said his plan would increase the GDP by about two percent and employment by 1.9 million people. He said the plan would also improve the housing situation by reducing barriers to refinancing and provide additional tax incentives for companies to hire veterans.
But, to pay for the plan, Obama said that the tax code would have to be reformed.
“I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t be paying a lower tax rate than Warren Buffett,” the president said. “Somebody who’s making $50,000 a year as a teacher shouldn’t be paying a higher effective tax rate than somebody like myself or Jeff, who’ve been blessed by the incredible opportunities of this country.”
One of the more interesting questions of the morning was posed by a man who said he is “unemployed by choice,” but that he used to work for a Silicon Valley startup.
“My question is would you please raise my taxes?” He said. “It kills me to see Congress not supporting the expiration of the tax cuts that have been benefiting so many of us for so long. I think that needs to change, and I hope that you will stay strong in doing that.”
Obama told him he agreed and that the tax rates proposed by some Republicans would be unfeasible for a modern industrial economy.
“I appreciate the fact that you recognize we’re in this thing together,” he said. “We’re not on our own. And those of us who’ve been successful, we’ve always got to remember that.”
Shortly afterward, the President left the Bay Area on Air Force One at 12:23 p.m.headed to Southern California for fundraising appearances later Monday.
The town hall was part of Obama’s three-day West Coast swing of a national fundraising tour that also included two fundraisers on Sunday night, one at the Woodside home of Symantec Chairman of the Board John Thompson and one at the Atherton home of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
The President has made a number of visits to the Bay Area since taking office, including an April visit to Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, where he also took questions from employees during a town hall meeting on the budget.
Members of the Republican leadership also stopped by Silicon Valley Monday, appearing at a town hall at Facebook to discuss jobs.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, sounded common GOP themes on taxes and spending cuts and job creation while taking questions from the audience and online members.
The discussion was moderated by Sandberg, a member of Obama’s job council.
The congressmen chatted about the ways social media has changed politics in Washington.
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