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Obama's Caterpillar Rehire Pledge: Media Ignore Plant Employees Overwhelmingly Opposed Stimulus

In February, in the build up to the ultimate passage of President Barack Obama’s $787-billion stimulus package, there was a lot of discussion about how much the stimulus was going to help the ailing economy. And to promote the bill, Obama visited a Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Ill.


Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., who represents the 18th Congressional District of Illinois, where the Caterpillar plant is located, described Obama’s visit and how he used it to lobby him to vote for the bill. It was another side of the story that went unreported by the media.


Obama singled out Schock in his Feb. 12 appearance, telling his audience to visit with the Illinois congressman and encouraged him “to do the right thing for the people of Peoria.”


But despite the president’s rhetoric, leading up to the bill passage and being signed into law, Schock told a group assembled at the Heritage Foundation’s Blogger’s Briefing on March 3 he did not hear from a single Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) employee urging him to vote for the stimulus bill, while hearing from 1,400 self-identified Caterpillar employees telling him not to vote for it. It eventually passed in the House by a 244-188 margin, without a single Republican vote.


“I got no pressure. In fact, we had thousands of phone calls, letters, emails,” Schock said. “I had 1,400 constituents that self-identified themselves on calling, in their letter or in their e-mail that said, ‘I am a Caterpillar employee,’ and then went on to ask me to vote against the stimulus. So, I didn’t have a single person at that Cat plant ask me to vote for it and I had 1,400 Caterpillar employees urging me to vote against it.”


Schock describe the pressure Obama put on him his Feb. 12 appearance with the president, when he put him on the spot.


“Here I am in the Caterpillar factory with, you know, probably 250-300 UAW members and I’m sure he thought he was in his turf,” Schock said. “And, you know, he said, ‘Where’s Aaron Schock?’ And you know, ‘Stand up,’ then went on to say nice things and say he had full confidence that I would do the right thing and that I want everyone of you to hit him up on the way out and tell him to vote for this.”


Schock said he stuck around for 45 minutes after the Caterpillar event and despite Obama’s plea, the people that came up to him said, “Stick your guns, this is a bad bill.” He also noted that chapter of the UAW in Peoria did not endorse the stimulus bill. He explained the pressure he was getting from the media after Obama’s proclamation rehiring would occur.


“I got on the plane and sat next to Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, and I will tell you, up until that point, I had a little heartburn because I was getting the mic shoved in my face saying, ‘Well gee, Cat says they’re going to rehire people if this passes. How are you going to vote?’”


He told his audience that he asked the Owens how the passage of this stimulus bill would make all this rehiring possible.


“I thought, ‘Well gee, I know Jim Owens. The guy has a Ph.D., graduate from Wharton School of Finance. This guy is smarter than this. I don’t think this is something he would say. I have to talk to him.’ So I got on the plane and leaned over and said, ‘Uh Jim, are you really promoting this bill?’”


Owens told Schock he was ‘ambushed’ by Obama.


“He said, ‘Aaron, I got ambushed,’” Schock added.


According to Schock, Owens said the president called him up asked him what it would take for him to rehire people at Caterpillar. Schock said Owens explained to him he told Obama he could rehire people if a “responsible stimulus bill is passed and the economy gets going again” he would rehire.


After that phone call was when Obama made his announcement in Springfield, Va. that Owens would rehire some of the laid off employees.


“Well, he made a couple of assumptions,” Schock said. “First was this stimulus bill was responsible and number two, it was going to get the economy going again, which it didn’t.”


Much of Obama’s announcement of a stimulus rehiring was celebrated by the media in the lead up to the passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill, but it was somewhat ignored once Owens backtracked on Obama’s pledge.


In the time leading up to the president’s passage of the stimulus during its debate in Congress, a recent Business & Media Institute study revealed ABC, CBS and NBC did their part to help get it passed. The three broadcast networks favored pro-stimulus voices by more than 2-to-1 over critics.