President Obama and former President Bill Clinton tonight pitched a coordinated message on jobs and the economy that appeared designed to confront an electoral landscape unsettled by Friday's dismal jobs report and an expected Republican victory in Wisconsin's gubernatorial recall.
Sharing the stage at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan, presidents 42 and 44 offered a robust defense of Obama's handling of the economy and vision for the future, asserting more forcefully than they've done elsewhere in recent weeks that more short-term government spending is needed to boost hiring while insisting Republicans have been blockading the effort all along.
"If you do not have economic growth, no amount of austerity will balance the budget because you will always have revenues go down more than you can possibly cut spending," Clinton told the crowd of Republican budget plans.
"So what [Obama] did was to say growth today, restraint in a big way tomorrow. … Growth and jobs today, build the economy, then take the burden of the debt off our children's future and avoid the exploding interest rates and declining living standards that it would impose on their future."
Clinton argued that Republicans in Congress rejected early on Obama's "politics of cooperation," derailing a bipartisan debt commission, a public-private infrastructure bank, and other measures that have traditionally received bipartisan support.
"So where are we in spite of that? In the last 27 months this economy has produced 4.3 million private sector jobs," he said. But "the Congress refused to pass his bill to send money to states and localities to keep the teachers on the job, to keep the firefighters and police officers on the job. … That's the austerity policy. It isn't good economics. The Obama policy is."
Obama echoed his predecessor, saying Republicans have sought to undermine his policy - essentially rooting for economic failure - from the beginning of his term.
"They had it from the day I was sworn in. They made a determination that politics should trump what was needed to move this country forward. And they have tried to put sand in the gears in Congress ever since," Obama said.
"And now they've got a nominee who's expressing support for an agenda that would reverse the progress we've made and take us back to the exact same policies that got us into this mess in the first place," Obama added of Mitt Romney. "And the reason we're here today is because we're not going back, we're going forward. We've worked too hard and too long to right the ship and move in the right direction."
Clinton also took a swipe at Romney, suggesting his budget plans would "cut out everything that helps middle class people, cut out everything that helps poor people work into the middle class," while also adding to the debt.
Invoking the financial crisis in Europe, Clinton said Romney's policy amounts to "Eurozone economic policy" of "continued austerity and high unemployment" while Obama favored "shared prosperity" and a "politics of cooperation.
"There's an enormous amount at stake, and we're going to have to make sure in this election we're describing clearly what's at stake," Obama said. "We shouldn't be afraid of this debate because we've got the better argument."
The Romney campaign, which has urged fiscal restraint in the face of economic headwinds, said the record trillion-dollar deficits during Obama's term have added an alarming $5 trillion to the national debt that is unhealthy for the country's future.
"This is yet another attempt by President Obama to distract voters from his three years of wasteful spending that have failed to get our economy moving again," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said of the Obama-Clinton attacks.
The Waldorf event was the second of three fundraisers the current and former Democratic presidents were attending in New York City tonight. The duo was expected to raise more than $3.6 million for the Obama Victory Fund, according to figures provided by a campaign official.