President Barack Obama took a shot at "brutal" education spending cuts in Pennsylvania during a Friday evening visit to Scranton as he touted a plan to keep college affordable, hold down student debt and improve the earning power of young people.
The visit to Lackawanna College was part of Obama's first trip to Pennsylvania — one of the nation's biggest college states — since he won here on his way to a second term. It ended a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania as he works to shape the September debate in Congress over the budget.
Obama maintains that higher education has never been more important to getting a good job, or as expensive, and he brought up cuts to taxpayer aid to underscore the need to improve access to higher education.
"States have been cutting back on their higher education budgets," Obama said. "And let's face it, here in Pennsylvania, there's been brutal cuts to not just higher education, but education generally."
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who is running for re-election next year amid criticism of his handling of education, shot back in a campaign statement that money from Obama's one-time recessionary budget aid to states "artificially" increased the education budget to unsustainable levels.
Scranton is friendly to Obama, he won big there last November, and he appeared with two Scranton natives, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Vice President Joe Biden.
But if Obama was trying to apply pressure to Republicans, he came to a good state: Pennsylvania's congressional delegation is heavily Republican, 14 to six, in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans, four to three.
The White House billed the visit as part of Obama's efforts to boost the middle class, and the latest in a series of speeches he's delivering around the country.
Under the plan, Obama wants to tie federal financial aid to schools' affordability and performance.
A 2008 U.S. Census report, the latest available, showed Pennsylvania to be fourth among states in degree-granting institutions with 257 and sixth in enrollment with 740,000.
Lackawanna College, a private two-year college with four satellite centers, offers a range of courses, but the White House touted several degree programs _ including petroleum and natural gas technology and several allied health degrees _ that it called key to addressing workforce needs in the region.
On the way to Scranton from an earlier appearance in Binghamton, N.Y., Obama's motorcade made a stop off Interstate 81 at Bingham's Restaurant, where owner David Scarpetta greeted Obama and Casey.
"I heard you've got good pie," Obama said. "That's the word on the street."
Scarpetta recommended a coconut cream pie to Obama, and later said he had been told that that was the president's favorite kind. After excusing himself to greet restaurant patrons, Obama pointed to Casey and told Scarpetta, "Don't let him pay."