Obama, at battery plant, jabs Republicans on economic 'snake oil'

  • CARLOS BARRIA

By Roberta Rampton

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama used a trip to a lithium-ion battery factory on Friday to defend his economic record against arguments made by Republicans in the race to succeed him after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Obama said his policies, including the $760 billion economic stimulus he brought in when he first took office, helped the American economy bounce back from the 2007-2009 recession that he inherited much faster than European nations that adopted austerity measures.

"If we don't recognize the progress we've made and how that came about, then we may chase some snake oil and end up having policies that get us back in the swamp," Obama told workers at the plant built by French company Saft with $95.5 million from the stimulus.

"We knew that it's going to take more than one year or even one president to get to where we need to go, but we can see real tangible evidence of what a new economy looks like. It looks like this facility right here."

The Saft plant, which opened in 2011, created almost 300 jobs in the region but has struggled with sluggish demand for lithium-ion batteries. The French company had to take a writedown and its chief executive has said it would probably take two to three years to become profitable.

Obama acknowledged the pace of changes in the economy has been "scary sometimes."

Those economic fears have helped propel the campaign of Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who is the front-runner in the race to be the Republican candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Florida, home to Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, is critical to both the March 15 primary vote and the general election that follows.

Obama brought Democratic U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy from Florida with him on the trip. Murphy is running for Rubio's Senate seat.

Stimulus investments to advanced battery makers were panned by Republican lawmakers after A123 Systems, a lithium-ion battery maker, went bankrupt in 2012 and was bought by Chinese auto parts maker Wanxiang.

Battery maker LG Chem came under fire after a 2013 Energy Department Inspector General report found that the company used some of its funding for a Michigan battery plant to pay employees to watch movies, volunteer at non-profits and play games because there was little work for them to do.

But Obama said the stimulus helped America compete in the global race to boost solar and wind power. "Taxpayers are getting their money back, and some," he said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Bill Trott)

This article was funded in part by SAP. It was independently created by the Reuters editorial staff. SAP had no editorial involvement in its creation or production.

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