- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

President Obama’s top economic advisers split Sunday on the state of the economy, with one declaring the recession over and the other saying it would not be over until the nation’s unemployment percentage returned to prerecession levels.

“Today, everybody agrees that the recession is over, and the question is what the pace of the expansion is going to be,” National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers said on ABC’s “This Week.”

But Christina Romer, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, sounded more cautious, setting a benchmark for the end of the recession as being in a more “normal” range of about 5 percent.

“Well, I’m not going to say the recession is over until the unemployment rate is down to normal levels,” Ms. Romer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Job losses slowed in November, but picked back up this month, leading some economists to couch the turnaround of the recession as a jobless recovery. Ms. Romer cautioned that the current jobless rate of 10 percent could easily increase next month.

While Mr. Obama has spent much of the past few months splitting his attention between a domestic agenda dominated by health care reform and an international agenda dominated by the war in Afghanistan, economic worries have forced the administration highlight its plans for creating jobs and turning around the economy.

Mr. Obama called a jobs summit last week to focus attention on his administration’s efforts and has suggested using money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to create new jobs.

“For the next year or two, priority No. 1 - certainly this year, priority No. 1 has to be job creation,” Mr. Summers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Public support for climate change measures has waned and opposition to health care reform has increased, according to polls conducted this month, as unemployment has remained high.

Meanwhile, Senate lawmakers sent a $1.1 trillion spending package to Mr. Obama on Sunday, voting 57-35 for the plan, which funds dozens of government agencies.

The spending increases coupled with continuing economic troubles have given Republican leaders a hook for their message.

Democratic plans to expand health care coverage and overhaul government oversight of financial markets would compound an already-bleak economy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday.

“Well, 10 percent of the Americans who are without work don’t think it’s over. And the 11 percent who are unemployed in Kentucky don’t think it’s over. I hope he’s right, that we’re beginning to come out of this economic slowdown, but unemployment is the key,” the Kentucky Republican said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”