US President Barack Obama accused Republicans on Friday of pursuing policies that would weaken the US economic recovery, going on the offensive a week after dismal US unemployment news smacked his re-election campaign. However, Republicans fired back quickly on Obama’s comments on the economy, particularly his insistence that “the private sector is doing fine” when it comes to job creation.
Republican rival and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, campaigning in Iowa, said Obama’s view was “defining what it means to be detached and out of touch.”
The comment revived memories of a statement Republican nominee John McCain made in 2008, during the economic turmoil, that the economy’s fundamentals were sound.
Obama spoke after several days of difficult turns for his re-election prospects, including a June 1 report that the unemployment rate rose slightly last month to 8.2 percent amid signs job creation has slowed and that the European debt crisis is hurting the US economy.
Obama, speaking at a White House news conference five months before election day, urged passage of legislation that he said would create jobs — proposals that Republicans have long blocked.
“The recipes that they are promoting are basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the economy, would result in further layoffs, would not provide relief to the housing market and would result ... in lower growth,” said the president, who is locked in a close campaign for re-election.
The president’s attack on Republicans was part of his campaign playbook in an election in which the economy is the top issue. Romney is campaigning for the White House as better equipped to create jobs and polls make the race a close one, with only about a dozen battleground states in dispute.
If the US Congress had passed his jobs bill from last year, “we’d be on track to have 1 million more Americans working this year, the unemployment rate would be lower, our economy would be stronger,” the president said.
“Of course Congress refused to pass this jobs plan in full,” he said. “They left most of the jobs plan just sitting there and in light of the headwinds we are facing right now I urge them to reconsider because there are steps we can take right now.”
Adding to a difficult week for Obama and his fellow Democrats, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker turned back a recall movement led by organized labor on Tuesday, while former US president Bill Clinton stirred controversy by saying Obama should be ready to sign a short-term extension of all expiring tax cuts — including those that apply to the wealthiest taxpayers that the president has vowed not to renew.
Congress approved an extension of the payroll tax, which Obama said was helping the economy, but Republicans balked at calls for additional spending to provide funding for teachers, school construction, highways and more, citing concerns about the deficit.
The president said US companies have been creating jobs at a faster clip than they did after the previous recession, while state and local governments have been shedding them.
The president also said that Republican allegations his administration has leaked classified information for political gain were offensive. He said his administration has “zero tolerance” for any such practice.
Lawmakers are investigating recent leaks of sensitive information about the covert drone and cyberwars against terrorism. Republican Senator John McCain has accused the Obama White House of leaking the information to bolster the president’s standing on national security grounds.