Making the case that the areas of the U.S. economy that need help are in state and local government and construction, President Obama today said that "the private sector is doing fine."
The president made his case in a hastily-announced press conference where he cautioned the public that economic troubles in Europe could adversely impact the U.S. if steps are not taken to cushion the blow with jobs programs. The president called on Congress to pass legislation to aid state and local governments to hire police officers, firefighters, and teachers, and to spend money on infrastructure projects that would aid the struggling construction industry. For months, Mr. Obama has been campaigning throughout the country with a "To Do List" for Congress, and a "Jobs Bill," that he says would help the economy during this period when the economic recovery is stalling.
"We've created 4.3 million jobs over the last…27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone," the president said, "the private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility of the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
Mr. Obama said that "if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments, and how do we help the construction industry, because the recipes that they're promoting are basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the…economy, would result in further layoffs, would not provide relief in the housing market and would result, I think most economists estimate, in slower growth and fewer jobs, not more."
Several times during his remarks, which included taking questions from three reporters, the president suggested that the private sector was in a good place. "We've seen record profits in the corporate sector," he said.
Republicans pounced on the remarks, seeking to use them to depict the president as out of touch. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a statement that "It's baffling that in the face of all evidence to the contrary, this President still believes that spending money we don't have to inflate the government is the answer to America's economic problems. The economy would respond much more favorably to providing the tax certainty Americans deserve by extending all the tax rates and assuring employers they do not have to budget for the largest tax increase in American history next year. The Obama Economy is even slower now than when we extended the rates in 2010-raising taxes on job creators in this slow economy is simply not the elixir for his failed policies."
UPDATE - Mitt Romney weighed in on the comments too, dedicating a portion of his speech to them within an hour of the president's news conference.
"Is he really that out of touch? I think he's defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people," said Romney at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"For the president of the united states to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history," he said.
Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce