President Obama asked for bipartisan support when he unveiled his “promise zones” program Thursday, an initiatve aimed at revitilizing the country’s most impoverished communities by encouraging private investment through government support.
“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Mr. Obama said in his speech in the East Room of the White House. “Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where the chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”
The five promise zones, located in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Kentucky coal country, and Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation, are an extension of the plan Obama first spoke of in last year’s State of the Union to aid the 20 U.S. towns in most desperate need of help.
The communities will be prioritized for federal grants and other support. Obama also asked Congress to establish tax breaks for companies that do business in those communities.
"We've got to make sure this recovery — which is real — leaves nobody behind," he said. "And that's going to be my focus throughout the year."
"This should be a challenge that unites us all," Obama added. "I don't care if the ideas are Democrats or Republican. I do care that they work."
Some Republicans used Obama’s speech as a chance to criticize his economic policies.
"It's altogether fitting that President Obama is today talking about income inequality, because income inequality has increased dramatically as a direct result of his economic policies," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
"All of America needs to be a real 'Promise Zone' — with reduced barriers to small businesses creating private-sector jobs — and we should start by repealing every word of Obamacare, building the Keystone pipeline, abolishing the IRS and rolling back abusive regulations,” Cruz said.
Sen. Mark Rubio (R-Fla.) gave his own speech at the Capitol Wednesday, trumpeting a conservative approach to economic recovery.
“Yes, the cashier at a fast food chain makes significantly less than the company’s CEO,” Rubio said. “The problem we face is not simply the gap in pay between them, but rather that too many of those cashiers are stuck in the same job for years on end, unable to find one that pays better. And it is this lack of mobility, not just income inequality, that we should be focused on.”