Obama, Biden touting higher ed in Scranton

SCRANTON, PA - AUGUST 23: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an event at Lackawanna College on August 23, 2013 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Obama is on his second day of a bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania to discuss his plan to make college more affordable, tackle rising costs, and improve value for students and their families. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
SCRANTON, PA - AUGUST 23: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at an event at Lackawanna College on August 23, 2013 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Obama is on his second day of a bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania to discuss his plan to make college more affordable, tackle rising costs, and improve value for students and their families. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Posted: August 25, 2013

SCRANTON - President Obama was on the road Friday afternoon to wrap up a two-day bus tour of colleges in upstate New York with a speech to students at Lackawanna College here.

Obama embarked on his bus tour during a tough political time: his approval rating below break-even, foreign policy crises in Syria and Egypt and the prospect of brinksmanship with a hostile Congress over the budget and the national debt ceiling in the fall.

With its blue-collar roots, Scranton is usually friendly Democratic territory. But it has struggled to recover from the great recession and unemployment here remains high. In the runup to his visit, Obama was not universally greeted as a conquering hero - even by fellow Democrats such as State Rep. Kevin Haggerty.

"Our families are out of work, and all the president continues to do is tour the country like Bruce [Springsteen], as though seeing his face is some kind of prophetic inspiration," Haggerty, whose district includes much of Scranton, wrote on his Facebook page.

"Forget the speech, Mr. President," Haggerty said. "We are not dumb. . .we are tired of being appeased."

The Scranton-Wilkes-Barre metro area has had Pennsylvania's highest jobless rate for 39 consecutive months; it currently is 9.2 percent, well above the national average. The theme of Obama's trip has been college affordability; he is stumping for a proposal to rate colleges by their affordability and graduation rates, and then tying federal financial aid to the schools to those ratings.

Lackawanna College is a private 2-year school that specializes in business education.

Vice President Biden, a favorite son of Scranton, where he was born, is scheduled to share the stage with Obama. This will probably give rise to some 2016 intrigue, since Obama recently did a 60 Minutes interview about Hillary Clinton and hosted a White House luncheon honoring his former secretary of state.

She is already considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination - if she wants to run, that is. Biden's aides say he also is considering a 2016 presidential campaign, which would be his third.

"This gives the president a chance to balance the scales a little bit," said Ed Mitchell, a Democratic political consultant in Northeast Pennsylvania. "I'm sure he wants to stay neutral."


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718, or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or follow @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/bigtent.

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