White House

After Dismal Week, Obama Pins Blame for Economy on GOP, Europe — Again

President Barack Obama pauses as he talks about the economy, Friday, June 8, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.
National Journal
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George E. Condon Jr.
June 8, 2012, 6:48 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama con­ten­ded on Fri­day that the private sec­tor is re­bound­ing, but blamed a shaky Europe and a balky Con­gress for stunt­ing Amer­ica’s eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery — and de­man­ded that Re­pub­lic­ans stop block­ing his agenda.

Ap­pear­ing in the White House brief­ing room, the pres­id­ent chided House Re­pub­lic­ans for ig­nor­ing his jobs pro­gram, par­tic­u­larly with the worsen­ing situ­ation in Europe. “In light of the head­winds that we’re fa­cing right now,” he said, “I urge them to re­con­sider.”

(RE­LATED: Obama Points to Europe as Risk to U.S. Eco­nomy)

Obama also stressed the im­pact that the euro­zone crisis is hav­ing on the U.S. eco­nomy, cau­tiously prod­ding European lead­ers. “Their suc­cess is good for us. And the soon­er that they act and the more de­cis­ive and con­crete their ac­tion, the soon­er people and mar­kets will re­gain con­fid­ence, and the cheap­er the costs of cleanup will be down the road.”

After a week that the White House and all Demo­crats fer­vently wish every­body could for­get, it was crit­ic­al for the pres­id­ent to step for­ward and com­bat the no­tion that the na­tion’s eco­nom­ic af­fairs are drift­ing. He needed to show com­mand, to show that some­body is in charge. Obama needed to counter the mes­sage of the past week, and he con­tin­ued to blame every­body else — primar­ily Europeans across the ocean and Re­pub­lic­ans at home —  for the bad news.

That news star­ted a week earli­er with a dis­mal May jobs re­port. Then former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton un­der­cut the Obama cam­paign’s mes­sage on Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial chal­lenger Mitt Rom­ney’s private-sec­tor ex­per­i­ence. Then Demo­crats watched Gov. Scott Walk­er cruise to a sol­id vic­tory for Re­pub­lic­ans in a Wis­con­sin re­call battle the White House nev­er wanted to see waged. That was fol­lowed by more bad news from Europe and an­oth­er counter-mes­sage from Clin­ton on the Bush-era tax cuts. And don’t for­get that Re­pub­lic­ans and Rom­ney are now out-fun­drais­ing Obama and Demo­crats. And just hours be­fore the pres­id­ent came be­fore re­port­ers, CNN re­leased a poll show­ing that a ma­jor­ity of the coun­try — 51 per­cent —   con­tin­ues to op­pose the health care over­haul that is the sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ment of his first term.

It might not have been what The Wash­ing­ton Post called a “ter­rible, hor­rible, no-good, very bad week.” But it was pretty bad.

The pres­id­ent’s an­swer was to re­turn to the mes­sage he’s been test­ing for a month: It’s all the fault of the Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress who are ig­nor­ing the To Do list he un­veiled on May 8 in Al­bany, N.Y. The list is a mix of pre­vi­ously an­nounced meas­ures, in­clud­ing tax cred­its for hir­ing, mort­gage re­lief for homeown­ers, and ex­pan­ded tax cred­its for clean en­ergy.

An­ti­cip­at­ing that mes­sage, House Re­pub­lic­ans fired back be­fore Obama even spoke. Brendan Buck, a spokes­man for Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, noted that the To Do list “has been ig­nored in the Demo­crat-run Sen­ate.” Try­ing to keep the blame at the oth­er end of Pennsylvania Av­en­ue, Buck, con­ten­ded that the Re­pub­lic­an House already has “passed more than 30 jobs bills that are sit­ting in the Sen­ate right now.”

The pres­id­ent ar­gued that the eco­nom­ic growth is not as ro­bust as it should be be­cause of lay­offs by state and loc­al gov­ern­ments. “Over­all, the private sec­tor has been do­ing a good job cre­at­ing jobs. We’ve seen re­cord profits in the cor­por­ate sec­tor,” he said. “The big chal­lenge we have in our eco­nomy right now is state and loc­al gov­ern­ment hir­ing has been go­ing in the wrong dir­ec­tion.”

Re­pub­lic­ans, led by Rom­ney, seized on his com­ment that “the private sec­tor’s do­ing fine.” In a state­ment, Rom­ney asked, “Is he really that out of touch?” He ad­ded, “I think he’s de­fin­ing what it means to be de­tached and out of touch with the Amer­ic­an people,” call­ing Obama’s com­ment an “ex­traordin­ary mis­cal­cu­la­tion.”

The GOP has been quick to charge that Obama is try­ing to blame Europe for prob­lems here at home. But the ab­bre­vi­ated press con­fer­ence, dur­ing which the pres­id­ent took ques­tions from three re­port­ers, did provide the sharpest in­sight yet in­to both the pres­id­ent’s ap­proach to the European crisis and the amount of his time it is de­mand­ing.

“It’s fair to say that over the last two years, I’m in con­sist­ent dis­cus­sions with European lead­er­ship and con­sist­ent dis­cus­sions with my eco­nom­ic team,” he said, adding, “This is a glob­al eco­nomy now and what hap­pens any­where in the world can have an im­pact here in the United States.”

Obama’s con­cern for the fra­gil­ity of the European Uni­on and the plight of hard-hit coun­tries like Greece was evid­ent as he tried to strike a care­ful bal­ance between sup­port­ing al­lied lead­ers and warn­ing them against policy mis­steps.

“What we’ve tried to do is to be con­struct­ive, to not frame this as us scold­ing them or telling them what to do, but give them ad­vice based on our ex­per­i­ences here,” Obama told re­port­ers.

In his most ex­pans­ive com­ments yet on the situ­ation across the At­lantic, he poin­tedly warned Greece not to leave the EU. “The Greek people need to re­cog­nize that their hard­ships will likely be worse if they choose to exit the Euro­zone,” he said.

Obama also cau­tiously praised European lead­ers for com­ing to the con­clu­sion that they need to stress growth and not ex­clus­ively fo­cus on aus­ter­ity. “They un­der­stand the ser­i­ous­ness of the situ­ation and the ur­gent need to act,” he said. “They’ve got to pro­mote eco­nom­ic growth and job cre­ation. Some coun­tries have dis­covered it’s a lot harder to rein in de­fi­cits and debt if your eco­nomy’s not grow­ing.”

The pres­id­ent said EU lead­ers face “tough” de­cisions, but that “Europe has the ca­pa­city to make them. And they have Amer­ica’s sup­port.”

He did not add — but could have — that the soon­er the con­tin­ent sta­bil­izes eco­nom­ic­ally, the soon­er the pres­id­ent’s reelec­tion cam­paign can re­bound and the less likely it is he will have to suf­fer through an­oth­er week as gloomy as the one just ended.

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