President Obama and his supporters are well aware that Friday’s jobs report is an ugly mess. But they’re trying to gain the high ground by shifting attention to Congress, highlighting a number of White House jobs proposals that have languished under the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
In a trip to a Honeywell factory in Minnesota Friday, Obama responded to the dismal news with a speech demanding Congress take action on a variety of measures, including infrastructure investments and aid to state and local governments to prevent teachers, firefighters and police from being laid off, that Republicans have thus far opposed. He also announced a new initiative to encourage private employers to hire returning veterans.
“We’ve got responsibilities that are bigger than an election,” Obama said. “We’ve got responsibilities to you. So my message to Congress is: Now is not the time to play politics, now is not the time to sit on your hands, the American people expect their leaders to work hard no matter what year it is.”
While “the economy still isn’t where it needs to be,” Obama said that enacting his proposals “can make a difference right now.” He also added that, even if the economy perks up, they could provide a “buffer” if things worsen in Europe.
“Look, we can’t fully control everything that happens in other parts of the world — disturbances in the Middle East, what’s going on in Europe,” Obama said, “but there are plenty of things we can control here at home. There are plenty of steps we can take right now to help create jobs and grow this economy.”
White House officials reinforced the message throughout the day. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis appeared on CNBC, warning that “Congress needs to take action” to accelerate job growth. Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, released a statement urging Congress to pass more components of the president’s American Jobs Bill that he announced last year.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the latest job figures “alarming and unacceptable,” in a statement. Trumka, too, stressed that the blame rested with Congress for not doing more to revive the economy.
“Most frustrating is the fact that it is not the means for recovery that lack, but rather the will,” Trumka said. “For purely political and cynical reasons, Republicans in Congress have blocked President Obama’s efforts to maintain momentum for growth, whether it’s the American Jobs Act or routine highway infrastructure investments.”
The renewed emphasis on Congress underscored the new political reality in which what was expected to be a modest jobs recovery this year may not materialize after all. Romney and Republicans wasted no time in capitalizing on the news, with the presumptive nominee appearing on CNBC to tag Obama with the blame.
“The president’s policies and his handling of the economy has been dealt a harsh indictment this morning,” Romney said, accusing Obama of wasting time trying to pursue “historic legislative achievements” like health care reform instead of focusing on the economy.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.