President Obama met with the mayors of some of the nation’s largest cities on Monday and heard dire predictions about deepening joblessness and prolonged effects of the recession. While pressing the president to do more to combat persistent urban unemployment, the mayors also pleaded with Congress to stop “dithering” on raising the debt limit, warning that lawmakers are confusing local officials and businesses trying to plan for the future.
The meeting came after the U.S. Conference of Mayors, during their annual meeting in Baltimore, issued a grim economic report that projected 75 metro areas will have double-digit unemployment and 193 cities will have jobless rates higher than eight percent by the end of this year.
“We absolutely have to get people back to work,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat and the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference, told reporters after the White House meeting, which also included Vice President Joe Biden.
Scott Smith, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., and the new second vice president of the mayors’ group, praised Obama and Biden. “They seem to understand that the action is happening at the city level. This is where our citizens are most affected” by decisions in Washington, he said.
He was more critical of Congress, particularly its failure to act on raising the debt ceiling. “The uncertainty here in Washington is having an impact on Main Street,” he said. “Businesses will not invest in an environment of uncertainty. So we plead with the Congress to solve this problem quickly.”
He said the president was “very open to our ideas” and thanked him for “a good dialogue.” He added, “We are here to solve problems. We are not here to score points.”
Villaraigosa criticized Congress for “dithering” and for debating “the head of a pin.” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat and the new vice president of the Conference, attacked what he called “the lack of reality that comes out of Washington, D.C., and then has a negative impact on the cities.”
“We are still experiencing tough economic times,” he said, complaining that the answer from Washington lately is too often more budget cuts in programs important to the cities. “They keep cutting and cutting and apparently do not understand the true impact that these cuts have back home.”
This was the second meeting the mayors have had with Obama since January. The mayors at this session included the leaders of Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Charlotte, Kansas City, Mo., Sacramento, Charleston, S.C., Burnsville, Minn., and Mesa.