Obama tries to sell policies today at West Mifflin plant

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President Barack Obama today will use a U.S. Steel plant as a stage to dramatize the themes of worker equity that ran through Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Mr. Obama will make the midday appearance at the West Mifflin plant after a stop in Maryland as he seeks to overcome Republican resistance and still-lagging poll numbers to revive his administration's policy momentum.

A senior administration official told reporters in a pre-speech conference call that the Mon Valley appearance would spotlight one of the initiatives of the address -- a proposal to create a new retirement savings plan for workers. Mr. Obama is expected to discuss the contrast between the situations of workers covered by traditional pension plans, such as the steelworkers he will address, with the insecurity of families whose financial challenges make it difficult to save for retirement.

He will fly here from a similar sales effort at a Costco store in Maryland, another venue selected to present a positive contrast with some of the worker challenges underscored in the State of the Union. The White House official noted that Costco has been recognized for its employee treatment, with paychecks well above the minimum wage.

The official called the stop, along with Mr. Obama's executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, "an effort to build the public debate on what the president views as a basic fairness issue."

In an earlier interview, an administration said of the U.S. Steel appearance, "There are, obviously, workers at the steel plant that have some good, middle-class jobs, but they have those jobs because they have some good training."

It's not the first time the administration has chosen the Pittsburgh region as a poster child for its policy agenda. At the 2009 G-20 meeting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Mr. Obama and other administration officials described the city's transition as an example of evolution toward a new economy. In June 2011, the president toured Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center seeking attention for a proposal to shorten the time it takes for academic and research advances to find their way to business applications.

Shortly before the speech was to begin, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, offered his analysis of Mr. Obama's repeated visits to southwestern Pennsylvania.

"The president loves to come to Pittsburgh because when you look at the Northeast, some of the cities are struggling, but Pittsburgh has kept its head above water because of technology and diversification."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto were Mr. Doyle's guests for the address. Asked for his take on the presidential visit, Mr. Fitzgerald said, "He's coming to Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh has had a resurgence. ... Our gross regional product was up 6.3 percent. If the nation's GDP was up 6.3 percent the deficit would be doing a whole lot better."

The latest Obama visit was also an opportunity for Republicans to stoke opposition to administration policies. Rob Gleason, the state GOP chairman, used the State of the Union speech and Pennsylvania visit as the centerpiece of the fundraising appeal contending that the president's "recycled liberal talking points" amounted to an effort to deflect attention from the chronic controversy over the introduction of the administration's signature health care law.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-McCandless, argued that, "The president should sit down with the thousands of people in Western Pennsylvania who lost their health care plans despite his promises they wouldn't."

Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.


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