David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior advisor, fought back hard on Sunday against questions about the president’s comment last week that “the private sector is doing fine.”
CNN’s State of the Union host Candy Crowley repeatedly asked Axelrod if the administration believes that the private sector economy is stable, which Axelrod deftly dodged. The best Crowley got was this comment: “It’s certainly doing better than the public sector.”
The president called on Congress on Friday to pass his Jobs Bill, which would create tax credits for small businesses that hire new workers and streamline regulations that hamper businesses. But Obama de-emphasized the private sector and talked in his weekly radio address mostly about public sector workers—teachers, firefighters, police officers.
“It should concern everyone that right now, all across America, tens of thousands of teachers are getting laid off,” he said. “When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Our students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.”
Mitt Romney seized on the comment, saying Obama didn't get it. Axelrod on Sunday refused to say the president’s comment was a gaffe. Instead, he pointed out that under Romney, the Massachusetts public sector employment grew six times faster than private sector employment. Axelrod also dinged Romney for saying we should cut back on the government. “He said we don’t need any more teachers. We don’t need any more teachers? What planet is he living on?”
The Romney campaign quickly sought to make light of Axelrod's bobbing and weaving. "When even your own chief strategist can’t defend your comments, it indicates that your assessment of the economy might be wrong," spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Public sector employees are in the spotlight with the victory last week of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a recall election that was launched in the wake of his vicious attacks on public sector unions. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who also appeared on State of the Union, said Romney is correct in suggesting that government workers aren't the answer to solve America’s problems.
“I think they want an adequate amount in order to fulfill their public service requirements,” McCain said when Crowley asked him if it was appropriate to cut back on government workers. “We also know that there is a significant problem with the unions and with pensions.”
Walker, who appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation, hammered home the Republican message that the emphasis should be on the private sector. His appearance showed the coordinated effort among Republicans to attack Obama for his defense of government workers, which they believe will be a winning issue for them in the November elections. “In the end, the big issue is that the private sector still needs more help and the answer is not more big government,” Walker said.
Walker spoke more about Romney’s qualifications for president than his own record in Wisconsin, saying the Romney would be the kind of tough leader that Americans want. “In [Wisconsin’s] case, what they wanted is people to take on the tough issues,” Walker said. Of Romney, he added, “I hope he goes big and he goes bold. I don’t think we win if it’s just a referendum on Barack Obama. Finally, someone is willing to take on the tough issues facing our state.”
Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also appeared on Face the Nation, said Obama’s private sector comment is being overblown. The private sector economy is improving, and voters need to be reminded of that fact. “Last year, more jobs were created in the private sector than in all eight years of George W. Bush,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the public sector continues to be a drag on economy.”
O’Malley also downplayed Walker’s victory in the recall election, noting that many voters in the state don’t believe in the concept of a recall. Just because they voted against it doesn’t mean they have faith in the governor, especially when Democrats now control the state Senate.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka echoed that idea. “What did he win? He got the right to serve the rest of his term,” he said. “He has lost control of the state Senate, so his agenda is stopped dead in its tracks.”