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Obama touts links between clean energy, education and economy

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama visits a wind turbine plant in Pennsylvania
  • "What you do here is a glimpse of the future," Obama tells plant employees
  • The president says Washington must move past "petty politics"

Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Barack Obama linked clean energy, education, economic growth and budget negotiations on Wednesday in urging workers at a wind turbine company to continue shaping the nation's future.

"I think that what you do here is a glimpse of the future," Obama told workers at Gamesa Technology Corp., part of a Spanish company that has wind turbine manufacturing plants in the United States.

The town hall-style meeting provided Obama with the opportunity to focus on clean energy issues -- including wind and solar power, electric cars and energy efficient buildings -- while calling for continued government spending on education and innovation to support future economic growth.

He called educating children today the "single most important determinant of how we do as an economy," adding that investing in education must continue "even in these tough budget times."

In reference to negotiations on government spending for the rest of the current fiscal year, Obama acknowledged the government might shut down starting Saturday without a deal.

He challenged Republican claims that the White House and Democrats don't want to cut spending, noting they have agreed to $33 billion in cuts from current levels.

"Don't believe that somehow the argument is about whether we should cut spending or not," Obama said. Instead, the question is what to cut, he said, and he made his case for targeting waste and unneeded programs while continuing to spend on innovation, education and rebuilding America's roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Obama reiterated goals he has set for the nation to cut its oil imports by a third by 2025 and to increase electricity generation from clean sources including wind, solar, hydro, nuclear and "clean coal," by 2035.

If the nation succeeds, it will be less vulnerable to gas price increases currently hurting consumers, will no longer be dependent on Middle East oil, will create less pollution, and will generate more high-tech jobs for American workers, the president said.

It won't be easy, he warned, calling for hard work and moving past "petty politics" that can hinder progress. In particular, he wondered aloud why it had to be so politically difficult to get agreement in Washington for policies such as developing clean energy sources to reduce oil imports.

Obama also called for reforming the tax code, which he called "kind of screwy." On paper, he said, the U.S. corporate tax rate is higher than in most other countries, but loopholes allow many companies to avoid paying any taxes at all.

Under tax reform, the rate would be lower but most loopholes would be eliminated, meaning everyone pays the same, Obama said.

The same principle can be applied to individual tax rates as a way to simplify the process, the president said.

Paying taxes each year "shouldn't be some two-week ordeal," Obama said, citing memories of his pre-White House days. "It wasn't that long ago when I did do my taxes. I remember. It was terrible."

In a lighter moment, Obama got a surprise in an exchange with a man who questioned him about rising gas prices when the president said too many people drive low-mileage sport utility vehicles.

"If you are complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon, ... well, you may have a big family but it's probably not that big," Obama said. He asked how many children the man has, then did a double-take.

"Ten kids you say? Ten kids? Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then," Obama said.

When another questioner later said he had seven children, Obama paused again to ask: "Is there some rule in Gamesa that you've got to have a whole bunch of kids?"

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.