Obama touting manufacturing at Wisconsin plant

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Pointing to a rebound in manufacturing, President Barack Obama in Wednesday is visiting a Milwaukee plant that has brought back jobs to the United States.

Before going on an extended West Coast fundraising spree, the president was visiting Master Lock, a Milwaukee maker of padlocks that was cited in his State of the Union address for bringing back 100 jobs to the U.S. from China in response to higher labor and logistical costs in Asia.

The president was making his economic pitch as Congress was poised to advance a key component of the jobs agenda he unveiled last September. House-Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement Tuesday on extending a payroll tax cut through the end of the year and renewing jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Lawmakers were expected to unveil the proposal Wednesday and could send the measure to Obama as early as this week.

The extension would be a win for Obama, who has said the cut in the Social Security payroll tax ? amounting to about $40 per paycheck for the average worker ? is vital to keeping the economy on the right path.

“Congress needs to extend that tax cut ? along with vital insurance lifelines for folks who’ve lost their jobs during this recession ? and they need to do it now, without drama and without delay,” Obama said Tuesday. “No ideological sideshows to gum up the works. No self-inflicted wounds. Just pass this middle-class tax cut.”

Obama has repeatedly talked up the nation’s manufacturing base as an engine of growth and a sign of a recovering economy. He has urged companies to promote “insourcing,” promising new tax incentives for businesses that bring jobs to the U.S. instead of shipping them overseas and eliminating tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.

The manufacturing sector was hard-hit for more than a decade. Manufacturers shed 5.8 million jobs from 1999 to 2009 as many companies shifted jobs overseas to take advantage of lower costs and many plants were modernized and automated, allowing firms to do more with fewer workers.

But the sector has shown more vitality in recent months, bolstering Obama’s case. Manufacturers added 50,000 jobs in January, the most in a year, and added 237,000 jobs in 2011, the largest annual boost since 1997. Of the 3.2 million jobs added by the economy since February 2010, about 400,000 are in manufacturing.

Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 but is expected to face a more difficult challenge this year after Republicans captured nearly every statewide office two years ago and the president’s standing declined in parts of the Midwest. Obama’s visit coincided with the one-year anniversary of the first widespread protests against proposals from Republican Gov. Scott Walker to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

Walker was expected to greet Obama on the airport and join him for the event at Master Lock. The governor has been targeted for a recall election that could come in the spring or summer and sought to define the recall election as a bellwether of how Obama will fare in Wisconsin next fall. Walker has said a win would deliver a “devastating blow” to Obama’s re-election campaign.

Most of Obama’s trip will be devoted to fundraising. The president is holding eight fundraisers for his re-election campaign in the Los Angeles area, San Francisco and Seattle.

After departing Milwaukee, Obama was to attend two fundraisers in Los Angeles. The first is an outdoor fundraising reception at the home of soap opera producer Bradley Bell and his wife, Colleen, featuring a performance by the rock band the Foo Fighters. The campaign expects 1,000 supporters to attend, with tickets starting at $250.

Obama is also attending a dinner at Bell’s home co-hosted by actor Will Ferrell and his wife, Viveca Paulin. Eighty people are expected to attend the dinner, with tickets costing $35,800. The fundraising will benefit the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee for Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.