President Barack Obama talks about the economy, Friday, June 8, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama declared Friday that
"the private sector is doing fine," drawing instant criticism from Republicans who said it showed a lack of understanding of the
nation's economic woes. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
responded, "Is he really that out of touch?"
Obama said Friday that businesses had created 4.3 million jobs
during the past 27 months and the primary problem with employment
is that state and local governments had been forced to cut jobs in
the private sector. He urged Republicans in Congress to help them
Romney, holding a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said
Obama's remark was "defining what it means to be detached and out
of touch with the American people." He said the comment "is going
to go down in history as an extraordinary miscalculation and
But while "doing fine" is in the eye of the beholder, Obama was correct that the job picture in the private sector is brighter than in the public sector. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, private companies have added 3.1 million jobs. Largely because of cuts at the state and local level, governments have slashed 601,000 jobs over the same period. According to the government, corporate profits have risen 58 percent since mid-2009.
Even so, by historical standards, private job gains in the last three months have been weak after such a deep recession.
Obama pressed Congress to enact parts of his jobs agenda, including proposals to help state governments rehire teachers, police officers and firefighters. Yet his comments about the strength of private sector hiring were bound to be replayed in television ads meant to discredit his message on the economy, the top issue for voters.
Seconds after Obama made the remark, Republicans circulated the
quote on Twitter and Romney seized on it about an hour later after
Behind the scenes, Romney aides worked furiously to push what they hope could be a shift in the campaign. Many remember four years ago, when Republican nominee John McCain asserted that "the
fundamentals of our economy are strong" in the midst of a meltdown. Obama's team went after McCain then and voters were left wondering what the Republican was thinking.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama had taken office "in the midst of a severe economic crisis and fought back against that to the point where businesses have now created more than 4.3 million private sector jobs. The president has always been clear that we need to do more than recover from the recession." He later said on Twitter, "Being called out of touch by a candidate who
joked about being unemployed and said he likes to fire people is
The president's re-election campaign has been in a rough patch lately. A bleak jobs report last week showed the economy added just
69,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2
percent, which can't help Obama's prospects in a race expected to
hinge largely on the economy.
"Are you kidding?" asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "Did he see the job numbers that came out last week? The private sector is not doing fine."
The episode also followed Republican Gov. Scott Walker's victory in a Democratic-led, union-backed recall effort in Wisconsin, and Romney's lead over Obama in May fundraising. Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee said Thursday they had raised more than $76 million combined in May, surpassing the $60 million haul by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
During a White House news conference Friday, Obama pointed to
Republicans in Congress for holding up portions of his jobs bill,
which he said could have led to 1 million more jobs this year if it
had been passed in full.
"The private sector is doing fine," Obama said. Economic weakness is coming from state and local government, with job cuts initiated by "governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
He said that if Republicans really want to put people back to work, "what they should be thinking about is how do we help state
and local governments and how do we help the construction industry."
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