By JOSH LEDERMAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Locked in a tug of war with lawmakers over spending and borrowing, President Barack Obama is pressing his case in America's heartland that Congress mustn't jeopardize fragile economic progress with threats of a government shutdown.
A recently expanded auto plant near Kansas City, Mo., is the venue for Obama to argue Friday that the U.S. economy is primed to thrive, if only Congress will let it. But back in Washington, the House is headed toward a vote Friday that would make shuttering Obama's health care law the price to pay to keep the government running for a few more months.
Obama already has warned he'd veto that bill, and the Senate may strip out the health care provision anyway. But with less than two weeks left to avert a partial government shutdown, a legion of Republicans are in open revolt over the prospect of approving stopgap funding without taking a swipe at Obama's signature law.
There's even less certainty about how Obama and Congress will resolve a feud over raising the nation's borrowing limit to head off a first-ever default on the nation's debt.
So Obama, his patience tried and his leverage maxed out, is heading west for a day to a sprawling auto plant in Missouri. The nearly 1,000 jobs Ford Motor Co. has added there to build the popular F-150 pickup truck underpins his case that with the government's help, the economy is bouncing back in American locales far removed from the political congestion in Washington.
Ironically, Ford is the only major U.S. automaker that didn't partake in the 2009 bailout that Obama says saved the industry and buoyed the economy.
Six years and six months ago, President George W. Bush also escaped to this Ford plant, regrouping amid a storm over the firing of U.S. prosecutors and brinkmanship with Congress over whether troops should stay in Iraq. Walking the noisy assembly lines and chatting up workers, Bush touted gas-electric hybrid vehicles the plant was churning out as he plugged an energy plan that remained controversial in Congress.
"The American people expect us to work together. See, that's what they want," Bush said, urging Democrats and Republicans to cooperate.
Obama, whose administration on Friday was also unveiling tough new pollution limits on power plants, won't see those hybrids on the assembly line. These days, production of that line of SUVs has been moved to Kentucky.
Dan Jowiski, the plant's manager, said there were once 4,500 workers building autos at the site, but that figure dropped off by nearly two-thirds during the auto industry crisis at the end of the last decade. The plant expects to return to that figure by the start of 2014, when it adds 1,000 workers to the payroll to build the new Ford Transit line of vans.