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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    President Barack Obama shakes hands as he arrives at the Nashua North gymnasium during his stop in Nashua on Tuesday.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Dr. Carl Rick Schwerdtfeger, left, and Dr. Kedar Gupta talk with President Barack Obama during his visit to ARC Energy in Nashua Tuesday, February 2, 2010.
  • Staff photo by COREY PERRINE

    Audience members take pictures as President Barack Obama speaks Tuesday, Feb. 2 at Nashua High School North. Obama stayed a couple hours during the town hall style meeting.

  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    President Barack Obama talks about jobs and the economy during his stop at Nashua High School North Tuesday, February 2, 2010.Staff photo by Don Himsel

    President Barack Obama is greeted in Manchester by Governor John Lynch, Carol Shea Porter and Paul Hodes Tuesday, February 2, 2010.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

At North forum, 6 tough subjects

NASHUA – Small-business lending was the Tuesday talking point for his visit to Nashua, but President Barack Obama aggressively challenged Republicans to stop carping and start solving problems.

At a town hall-style forum, Obama fielded six questions on health care, energy, education, bipartisanship, government openness and the human devastation in Haiti.

Obama said jobs and the economy are his top priority and showed off his $30 billion plan to expand lending to small-business owners after he visited a Nashua startup on the cutting edge of energy technology.

But Obama’s defiant defense of the need to reform health care drew, by far, the biggest response.

“Another foundation is fixing a health care system that is working better for the insurance industry than it is for the American people,” Obama said near the close of his opening remarks.

“I do not quit; we are going to get that done,” said Obama, claiming comprehensive health care reform is near the finish line rather than out of the running.

A standing ovation from this crowd of more than 1,000 at Nashua North High School began slowly but steadily grew, prompting Obama to nod and twice repeat, “We have to get it done.”

On the GOP

Obama called out Senate Republicans, claiming they killed creation of a high-powered commission charged with devising solutions to balance the budget that Congress would have had to vote up or down.

U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg co-wrote the bill, and Obama pledges to issue an executive order to form a commission that would lack the force of law on Congress to act.

“This law failed by seven votes when seven Republicans who had co-sponsored the idea suddenly walked away from their own proposal when I supported it,” Obama said.

“I turned around, they’re gone. What happened?”

In a telephone interview, Gregg agreed some Senate GOP members abandoned it, but said Democratic leaders managed to find 60 votes for health care and other initiatives but let the country down on this one.

“I think you could lay the blame at both sides equally,” Gregg said.

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu called Obama’s executive order “more smoke and mirrors” but hoped Gregg would agree to serve and be a strong voice for making the tough choices.

“It will have no impact if he doesn’t follow through on its recommendations,” Sununu said.

Gregg said the chances of Obama’s commission succeeding were slim because it lacked the teeth a law would have.

“If it’s real, if it’s genuine and if it’s substantive, I will consider it,” Gregg said. “If it’s just for political cover, I won’t.”

Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget forecasts deficits in excess of $1.5 trillion this year and next.

Obama said as America’s economy struggles to fully recover, it’s tempting for Capitol Hill critics to attack from the sidelines.

“My point is the easiest thing to do in politics is to point fingers, to figure out who’s to blame for something or to make people afraid of things,” Obama said.

Sununu and other Republicans blamed Obama for the spending excess and rebutted Obama’s claim the $787 billion stimulus package kept the recession from getting much worse.

They attacked Obama’s budget proposal to raise taxes on families making $250,000 or more, contending health care and other budget items would raise taxes on working families.

“We hope the tax increases he put in his budget don’t kill the small-business incentives,” Sununu concluded.

Talking energy

The commander-in-chief even took on former New Hampshire Democratic congressman Dick Swett who, with the last question, urged Obama to place a cap and trade solution for climate change on the back burner.

Swett, an architect and husband of Democratic congressional candidate Katrina Swett, of Bow, said Obama should instead promote alternative energy sources and seek greater domestic efficiency rather than raise the cost of power from more polluted sources.

“These two things can avoid us having to do things like cap and trade … that are going to have destructive impacts on our economy,” Swett said.

Obama said the federal stimulus already adopted incentives to create “green technology” jobs and to make Americans more efficient by spending to weatherize homes.

Cap and trade worked in the 1990s to significantly cut sulfur dioxide emissions, a leading cause of acid rain pollution that was once a serious threat to the environment, Obama said.

“We should take a lesson from the past and not be afraid of the future,” Obama said.

Anne McLane Kuster, of Hopkinton, is running in the 2nd Congressional District primary against Katrina Swett along with Concord state Rep. John DeJoie.

“I think the president has to get out of the Washington beltway as much as he can and talk directly to the people like he did today,” Kuster said.

“All the pundits say health care is dead, but you heard that reaction. People want their neighbors to have coverage and not have someone denied insurance because they have a pre-existing condition,” she added.

As for cap and trade, Kuster said the first priority should be creating more green technology jobs, but she agreed with Obama. It’s worked before and should be “explored further.”

“Anybody can ask a question,” Kuster said of Swett’s gambit. “I think everybody was having fun with it.”

Small-business approach

Earlier Tuesday, Obama toured ARC Energy, a lighting technology company co-founded by Kedar Gupta who built GT Solar in Merrimack, a successful, solar panel business that went public three years ago.

“It’s this little business just on Amherst Street, but they have the potential to revolutionize an entire industry right here in Nashua,” Obama said.

Chief technology officer Carl Rick Schwerdtfeger showed the president how using sapphire crystals can dramatically cut the cost to produce long-lasting, “green” LED light bulbs.

A proven entrepreneur, Gupta said it was easier for him than for the “little guy” to get $10 million in venture capital that he used along with his money to start and grow this business.

“This is your second time around.” Obama told Gupta. “You’ve already started this once.”

Obama said the country needs more private company leaders like Gupta.

“Many CEOs take a me, me and me approach, but his approach has been we, not about just benefiting himself but lifting his employees too and his community,” Obama said.

On the sidelines

Obama reminisced about his 2008 primary campaign when he narrowly lost to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but earned a hard-fought nomination five months later.

“Some of you may remember, I’ve spent some of my time in your great state. I’ve had beers in the Peddlar’s Daughter,” Obama recalled.

Local clergy, students and businessmen hosted the forum. The Rev. John Grace of The Parish of Resurrection gave the invocation, Nashua South senior Connor Stroebel led the Pledge of Allegiance and the Nashua High School North Acappella Group sang the national anthem. Tim Dining, president and CEO of Greenerd Press & Machine Co., introduced Obama.

After Obama’s visit, across town, Americans for Prosperity, a conservative think tank, hosted a counterpoint forum at the Courtyard by Marriott featuring Wall Street writer Stephen Moore.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or