President Barack Obama Friday renewed his calls for the U.S. Congress to take action to bolster the nation's sluggish economy.
While noting that the economy has recovered somewhat from the depths of the economic crisis, Obama said that there remain challenges to overcome and said Congress needs to do more to ensure the country's continued economic growth.
"One concern is Europe, which faces a threat of renewed recession as countries deal with a financial crisis," Obama said. "This matters to us because Europe is our largest economic trading partner."
He added, "The good news is there is a path out of this challenge."
Obama said that his frequent contact with leaders across the Atlantic has left him confident that they understand the seriousness of the situation and the need to act.
"The bottom line is that the solutions to these problems are hard, but there are solutions," Obama said. "The decisions required are tough, but Europe has the capacity to make them."
In the meantime, Obama said, it is critical for the U.S. to take its own steps to strengthen the domestic economy, and he urged Congress again to approve the jobs plan he sent to Capitol Hill last fall, only a few parts of which have been enacted.
"They left most of the jobs plan just sitting there," he said. "In light of the headwinds we're facing right now, I urge them to reconsider because there are steps we can take right now to put more people back to work."
Obama said that the ideas he had put forward were plans supported by independent and non-partisan economists for strengthening the economy.
"Keep in mind that the private sector has been hiring at a solid pace over the last 27 months," he said. "But one of the biggest weaknesses has been state and local governments, which have laid off 450,000 Americans."
He added, "These are teachers and cops and firefighters. Congress should pass a bill putting them back to work right now."
Obama also suggested putting many of the construction workers who lost jobs with the burst of the housing bubble back to work on public infrastructure projects.
"There's nothing fiscally responsible about waiting to fix your roof until it caves in," he said. "We've got a lot of deferred maintenance in this country. We could be putting a lot of people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, some of our schools."
He added, "There's work to be done and there are workers to do it. Let's put them back to work right now."
However, citing large corporate profits and relatively strong hiring in the private sector, Obama went on to say, "The private sector is doing fine," a phrase that Republicans immediately seized upon, seeking to paint Obama as out of touch with the plight of many American workers.
Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, who has clinched the GOP presidential nomination, said that the remark was "defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people.''
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also pounced on the phrase in a written statement.
"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," McConnell said.
He added, "The Obama Economy is even slower now than when we extended the [lower tax] rates in 2010—raising taxes on job creators in this slow economy is simply not the elixir for his failed policies."
In a hastily arranged press conference following Obama's remarks, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also sought to capitalize on the misstatement.
"Mr. President, I used to run a small business, and Mr. President, take it from me: The private sector is not doing well," he said. "The American people are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?'"
by RTT Staff Writer
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