Obama says he won't back down on 'trying to stimulate' economy

'Stimulus' has become a dirty word in the congressional midterm elections. But at a press conference Friday, President Obama pledged to continue efforts to stimulate jobs and growth.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama answers questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday.

President Obama has a message for voters angry about the sluggish economy: “I feel your pain.”

At his news conference Friday, Mr. Obama didn’t use that exact phrase. But a chief executive famous for his cool demeanor did his best to express empathy with Americans who might blame him – and congressional Democrats – for the nation’s high unemployment and slow recovery from recession.

“For all the progress we’ve made, we’re not there yet, and that means people are frustrated and people are angry,” Obama said. “Since I’m president and Democrats control the House and Senate, it’s understandable that people are saying, ‘What have you done?’ ”

At the same time, Obama attempted to frame America’s business troubles as something largely caused by the previous administration. To vote GOP in the upcoming elections, he said, would be a vote for returning to an economic approach that failed the nation in the past.

“The policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact same policies that got us into this mess,” said Obama, who for an example pointed to the current debate over whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts.

Obama’s wide-ranging, full-scale press conference took place in the context of bad electoral news for his party, as Democrats face a blowout in coming midterm elections, according to current polls. Chances are high that Democrats will lose control of the House. There is a smaller, but still substantial, chance that they will lose the Senate as well.

With the anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday and controversy over the proposed mosque near New York’s ground zero still boiling, Obama fielded a number of questions dealing with war, peace, and religion, as well.

On the subject of the Bush tax cuts, the president stuck by his position that they should be extended for the middle class, but not for those with incomes above $250,000. Peter Orszag, Obama’s former budget chief, suggested in a recent opinion article that the politically expedient move might be to accept a blanket extension of the tax cuts, for now.

“The Republicans are holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we have to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires,” said Obama.

On the economy in general, the president said that the nation had suffered such deep setbacks, including the loss of 8 million jobs, that his time in office has not been long enough for administration policies to take full effect.

“We’ve made investments that will strengthen the economy over the long run, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

This continuing softness in the economy is why he has proposed further economic development measures, including a $50 billion investment in US infrastructure, said Obama. He brushed off suggestions that this package has little chance of passage due to partisanship, the US deficit, and the lack of time left in the current Congress.

“I will keep on trying to stimulate jobs and growth for as long as I am president of the United States,” Obama said.

As to why his signature health-care reform effort has not yet begun to reduce the nation’s medical costs and is unlikely to do so next year, Obama said, “Bending the cost curve is hard to do.... I said at the time [of the bill’s passage that] it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow.”

He also dismissed as unimportant a question that asserted some Democratic lawmakers are running away from the health-care bill in an effort to save their own jobs.

“We’re in a political season where every candidate out there has their own district, their own plan, their own message,” he said.

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