At the end of what it had billed as “recovery summer,” the Obama administration is offering a mixed-message response to a sputtering economy: promising to identify additional measures to boost growth while simultaneously dampening expectations for quick relief.
Just back from vacation, President Obama met with his economic advisers Monday and then delivered a brief statement to the press, blaming Republicans in Congress for blocking a small business aid package.
“I ask Republicans to drop the blockade,” the president said.
Under criticism from embattled Democrats running for reelection for not focusing enough on voters’ economic concerns, Mr. Obama said, “My economic team is hard at work identifying additional measures that could make a difference in both promoting growth and hiring in the short term and increasing our economy’s competitiveness in the long term."
The context for the remarks includes a report last week that growth has slowed to a 1.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter of the year. What's more, some private economists have said new jobless numbers, which will be released Friday, may be even worse than the current 9.5 percent national unemployment rate.
The president will spend much of the week on foreign affairs with a speech Tuesday on the end of the US combat role in Iraq followed later in the week by hosting direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The administration was eager to have Monday’s message focus on domestic issues.
But at a lengthy press briefing Monday afternoon, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sounded a number of notes of caution about how much economic progress could be expected in the short term from any of the “targeted measures” to spur recovery that come forward from the administration.
“I think there is no doubt there is only so much that can be done,” Mr. Gibbs said at one point. He also warned “there is not one switch to flip and then the economy will somehow look better overnight."
Gibbs, a senior adviser to the president as well as his spokesman, said that in January 2009, when Obama came into office, no one had “a sufficient grasp at the sheer depth of what we were facing.”
And alluding to the role the previous Republican administration’s policies had in causing the nation’s economic problems, Gibbs said the nation was in “one big pothole … the size of which any stimulus was unlikely to fill.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement in response to the president’s remarks, charging that “instead of growing jobs as promised, Washington Democrats have grown the size of the national debt, the federal government, and the unemployment rate.”