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Economy takes center stage at Clinton rally



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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, joined by former Indiana First Lady Judy O'Bannon to her left, gives thought to a question from an audience member Saturday at the South Side Inn restaurant in New Albany. (Photos by Brian Smith)
April 02, 2008
On Saturday afternoon at the South Side Inn restaurant in New Albany, it sounded like the Beatles had arrived in the United States again. The cheers and applause were almost deafening as a convoy of vehicles pulled up in front of the building.

But, of course, it wasn't the Fab Four who came through the door. It was Sen. Hillary Clinton, and it was obvious that the standing-room-only crowd could not have been more excited if it had been the Beatles or any other celebrity. It was also obvious that, regardless of what the polls say, Clinton still has an abundance of supporters and fans.

The stop in New Albany, which was billed as a roundtable discussion on the economy, was one of several on a tour of Indiana and Kentucky that Clinton, accompanied by former Indiana First Lady Judy O'Bannon, was making in an effort to prove the polls wrong and the race for the Democratic nomination far from over.

"We just got the word that Hillary was coming about three days ago," Ryan Lynch, an employee at the restaurant, said. "It really hasn't been all that hard to get ready. We worked a little late last night and came in early this morning to finish up, but they didn't want us to change anything— and we didn't. This is a little bigger crowd than we're used to, but we're enjoying it. And I'm ready to listen to what she has to say."

Most of the people at the event had been waiting for hours to get in and considered it a small price to pay in order to see their favorite candidate.

"I've been a supporter of Hillary the entire time," Amber Todaro, of Otisco, said. "We've had our T-shirts ready for a while. She's the only candidate with a national health care plan that will work, and we seriously need that in this country.

"I work in health care, and I've seen a lot of things that just aren't right. I've seen people who had to get a leg amputated because they couldn't afford preventative care and proper treatment," she said. "It's a shame. Everyone should have good health care in this country. There's just no excuse for the kind of care a lot of people are getting, and I believe Hillary will do something about it."

Once the cheers and applause diminished, Clinton and O'Bannon made their way to a table in the center of the main dining room.

"I feel like I'm bringing an old friend home," O'Bannon said as she introduced Clinton. "There are many serious issues confronting this country now — the troubled economy, bringing the soldiers home from Iraq and problems with health care — but when you leave here today, you won't be downcast. This is the most approachable person I have ever run into. She listens. But why listen to me talk? Here's Hillary."

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Clinton receives a warm welcome upon entering the restaurant.
Clinton began by commenting on how good the peanut butter pie looked as she walked by the lunch counter, then, relaxed, she began talking to the crowd of supporters.

"When you're out campaigning, you get used to huge crowds, but it's settings like this — a conversation — where we learn more, because we listen," she said. "You learn more when you listen instead of talking all the time. And by doing that, I've learned what's on the minds of Hoosiers. Every corner of the state has concerns about the same issues — jobs, the economy, health care, college affordability and a lot of concerns about the war in Iraq.

"There has been a slowdown in certain areas of business, including housing, due to the failure of the government to deal with the sub-prime mortgage crisis," Clinton, the nation's first lady from 1993 to 2001, continued. "The foreclosures caused by this affects whole neighborhoods, and there will be 2.2 million more foreclosures this year.

"This must be addressed in order to improve the economy and get the housing market going again. We have to work with the lenders and the homeowners. The Bush Administration wants to put money into supporting the markets, but don't want to put money into trying to keep people in their homes."

Clinton went on to talk about the escalating cost of energy and how coal-fired power plants supply a large percentage of the country's electricity needs.

"We get 52 percent of our electricity from coal, and we have large reserves," she said, "but we have to clean up coal, which is really expensive to do. And if more cost is imposed on the plants to do that, the more it's passed on to consumers. The biggest problem with coal is that (when burned) it emits carbon dioxide and mercury. We're going to continue to use coal, no doubt about it, but we have an administration who is doing nothing to solve our energy problems."

Jeff Briscoe, who has worked for years at the Ford plant in Louisville, was asked to speak to the crowd.

"In the last 12 years, I've seen a lot of growth at Ford, but now, I'm on temporary lay-off," Briscoe said. "High oil prices are hurting everyone. And all the poor folks on minimum wage — I don't know how they're making it by. I don't know how they're even able to afford to drive to work."

"I think I know how to turn the economy around," Clinton said. "And Ford is like everyone else — they have to pay the energy bill. The cost of producing raw goods is up. And when energy prices go up, it causes an upward spiral of cost increases. We live in an inter-connected world now. We haven't been focused on solving our problems.

"Diesel fuel is $4 a gallon and gasoline is headed that way by summer. Oil was $20 a barrel when George Bush became president, and he took no action to stand up to the oil companies. It's time we told them to stand up to solutions or get out of the way. The oil companies have us over a barrel, and it's not our barrel."

Clinton then spoke about expanding the use of hybrid automobiles and insisting that auto companies develop vehicles that get better gas mileage.

"We also have to take away the tax breaks this administration gave the big oil companies," she continued. "They don't need your money. And in 2005, Dick Cheney gave them even more tax breaks. They should be told to invest in their own research. And I think there's a lot of people around the country who don't see the importance of the auto industry, but Hoosiers do. We have to get the high cost of health care down in manufacturing, and I'll do everything I can to make it better. We must get back to creating jobs in America."

Clinton then focused on the housing market, saying it has become a complicated and somewhat corrupt business.

"It used to be that if you wanted to buy a home, you'd go to your local bank and get a loan," she said. "The bank would be there, year after year, and your mortgage rate would be affordable, but now, mortgages are sold all over the world.

"There are so many tricks, like inflated appraisals, and the pre-payment penalty that allows the companies to charge a higher interest rate if you pay extra on your loan or want to pay it off early. And wages are not going up. They've actually fallen over $1,000 a year under Bush. We were on the right track in the 1990s. We need to get back to sharing prosperity."

Clinton added that middle-income people need help with health care and that good health care is a right, not a privilege.

"I believe that everyone should have the same type of plan that members of Congress have," the junior senator from New York, first elected in 2000, said. "We have to put a limit on the amount anyone pays for insurance premiums. If you're poor, you have Medicaid, if you're an older citizen, you have Medicare, but middle Americans don't get enough help with health care.

"We need to get everyone in the system, and they should pay whatever they can afford. It's morally wrong for working people not to be covered. Insurance costs too much. And people pay too much and get too little.

"Insurance companies discriminate against sick people, and we don't stand up to them. Insurance companies make life-and-death health decisions, and America is tired of it. I will stand up to them."

The high rate of interest charged by credit card companies was the next item on Clinton's agenda.

"I see this as the next major crisis," she continued. "I see it all the time. People now have to put everything, including college tuition, on credit cards because they just don't have any money. Interest rates have exploded.

"Student loans are just as bad now. I've heard people in Muncie talking about how they were paying 27- and even 29-percent interest on student loans. When I was in college, I paid 2 percent on my college loans. When students get out of college, they now feel like indentured servants. Many have to move back home because they can't afford a place to live."

Clinton went on to say that she has no intention of pulling out of the race, even though some high-profile Democrats have called for her to do so.

"We're sorry you're in such a tough race, girl," O'Bannon told Clinton, "but you're up to it. We just have to keep uniting hard-core Democrats. Hoosiers are now a part of the decision-making in the primary."

"I want Indiana to be a part of this election," Clinton added. "I believe with all my heart that we can turn this country around. We'll have a unified Democrat party and we will win the White House."

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