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Obama touts economic gains but warns of tough deficit decisions

By the CNN Wire Staff
President Obama was in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday to discuss the economy.
President Obama was in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday to discuss the economy.
  • President Obama visited Buffalo, New York, as next stop on "Main Street" tour
  • City has been struggling in recent decades with loss of industrial employers
  • Obama also visited relatives of those who died in February 2009 plane crash

Buffalo, New York (CNN) -- President Obama said Thursday that economic growth will continue next year, but he warned the nation will face hard choices as it tackles the federal deficit.

In a town hall appearance at a manufacturing plant in Buffalo, New York, Obama prompted applause when he declared: "We can say beyond a shadow of a doubt today we are headed in the right direction."

"Next year's going to be better than this year," Obama said.

At the same time, Obama warned of tough choices ahead as the nation faces its unsustainable deficit.

"The truth of the matter is that we're going to have to spend the next couple of years making some very hard decisions getting our deficit and spending under control," he said in response to a question about tax reform. "It's not going to be fun."

The visit was part of Obama's continuing "White House to Main Street" tour. He grabbed some wings for lunch at a local joint and then toured a metal fabrication plant, where he held a town-hall-style event to talk about the economy.

Buffalo suffers from one of the country's highest poverty rates, with nearly 30 percent of its population living at or below the poverty line.

The city has struggled in recent decades with the loss of industrial employers such as steel and auto-related manufacturers, but has weathered the most recent recession a little better than the nation overall.

The unemployment rate in Buffalo currently stands at 8.6 percent while the national average is 9.7 percent.

Video: Obama: Headed in 'right direction'

Poking fun at the political clamor of Washington, Obama said he liked escaping to places like Buffalo so he can hear the voices of the American people.

"No matter what the economists say, it's not a real recovery until people feel it in their own lives," he said.

Obama cited steps his administration has taken in response to the economic recession -- including what he called unpopular ones such as bailing out banks and automakers -- as necessary to bring about the growth and job creation of recent months.

He also heralded assistance to small businesses like Industrial Support Inc., the plant where his speech took place, noting the company received a loan via the stimulus bill that helped it weather the recession and buy new equipment.

In particular, Obama told how a woman at Duff's Famous Wings -- where he had lunch -- thanked him for the tax credits in the health care reform bill passed this year that help small businesses provide health insurance for workers.

"She offered me some of her wings ... but I had already ordered," the president joked.

In response to questions from the audience of more than 200 people, including plant employees and local officials, Obama said he wants to work with Congress to create a sustainable source of funding to improve the nation's highways, rail links, ports and other infrastructure.

He also reiterated his support for strengthening the education system. Known as a basketball and baseball fan, Obama made a rare hockey reference in the city considered a hockey town.

"We've got to make sure that our young people are trained and prepared for the future," Obama said. "I know Buffalo's a big hockey town. Now [pro hockey great Wayne] Gretzky wasn't your guy, but what did they used to say about Gretzky? ... He didn't think about where the puck was, he thought about where it was going to be."

Before his appearance, Obama also met privately with families of the 50 people killed in February 2009 when a Continental Connection commuter plane crashed while flying from Newark, New Jersey, to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Afterwards, he wore a red bracelet on his left wrist commemorating the victims of the crash.

The president has taken several trips as part of his White House to Main Street tour. Most recently he traveled to Iowa, Illinois and Missouri during a multiple-stop trip.