President Obama didn’t use the phrase “do-nothing Congress,” but that was essentially where he placed the blame Friday as he addressed May’s rise in unemployment.
Speaking at an event focused on promoting jobs for veterans, Mr. Obama pushed the "To-Do List" for Congress he unveiled last month: five items aimed at boosting the nation’s weak economic recovery. One of those items is legislation to create a Veterans Jobs Corps to help military men and women find jobs after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that it’s an election year, he said, isn’t lost on anybody.
“My message to Congress is, now's not the time to play politics, now's not the time to sit on your hands,” Obama said at a Honeywell International plant near Minneapolis. “The American people expect their leaders to work hard no matter what year it is.”
Friday’s report from the Labor Department came as a blow to Obama’s reelection prospects, with only 69,000 jobs created last month, well below expectations, and unemployment ticking up one-tenth of a percent to 8.2 percent. The rise in unemployment was the first since last June, raising concerns that the slow recovery is stalling.
In his remarks, Obama spoke of the “serious headwinds” the economy still faces, including high, though declining, gas prices and the crisis in the European economy that is “starting to cast a shadow on our own as well.”
But most of what he outlined for the economy involves Congress – measures he sees as stimulative but haven't gone anywhere in the Republican-led House.
“Right now, Congress should pass a bill to help states prevent more layoffs, so we can put thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers back on the job,” Obama said.
“Congress should have passed a bill a long time ago to put thousands of construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our runways,” the president added.
Obama did offer Congress “a little bit of credit” for passing some parts of the jobs bill he sent Congress last September, such as a tax cut for working Americans. But, he said, “Congress has not acted on enough of the other ideas in that bill that would help make a difference and help create jobs right now.”
The president also struck a note of optimism, as he appealed to Americans’ can-do spirit amid trying economic times.
“We will come back stronger. We do have better days ahead. And that is because of all of you,” Obama said to cheers. “That's because of all of you. I place my bet on American workers and American businesses any day of the week.”
Obama highlighted the fact that manufacturing is consistently adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s, a big applause line at the Honeywell factory. But there was no denying that Friday morning’s jobs report dampened what the president certainly had expected would be a more upbeat day for the economy, with a little more than five months to go till Election Day. Obama was to spend the rest of the day raising campaign money at six fundraisers in Minneapolis and Chicago.