President Obama’s comments Friday that the “private sector’s doing fine” attracted sharp and immediate counterfire from GOP nominee Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans, who said the remarks showed the president was badly out of touch on the plight of the economy.
In his remarks to reporters at the White House Friday morning, Mr. Obama tried to draw a distinction between private sector job growth and continuing cutbacks by cash-strapped state and local governments, saying it was public-sector job losses and the refusal by Republicans to back his job-creation plans that were holding the larger U.S. economy back.
“The truth of the matter is, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months — over 800,000 just this year alone,” Mr. Obama said. “The private sector’s doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with the state and local governments.”
He suggested GOP lawmakers are resisting his job-creation proposals because they’re motivated by election-year concerns.
“If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry,” Mr. Obama said.
Within less than an hour, Mr. Romney and top Republicans on Capitol Hill were firing back.
Campaigning in Iowa, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama’s comment was “an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding.”
“I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people,” Mr. Romney said at an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, pointing to the 23 million Americans who are unemployed or under-employed.
“For the president of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history,” he added.
House GOP leaders also laughed off the president’s assertion that private industry is improving, citing in part a disappointing jobs report for May and national unemployment still above 8 percent.
“My question would be to the president: ‘Are you kidding?’” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “Did you see the job numbers that came out last week? The private sector is not doing fine.”
Later in the day, Mr. Obama tried to clarify his comment.
“It’s absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine,” Mr. Obama said while sitting next to Philippines President Benigno Aquino in the Oval Office. “That’s the reason I had a press conference. That’s why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger. The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak, too many homes underwater and that’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference. And the question then is what are we going to do about it?”
The president said “what I’m interested in hearing from Congress and Mr. Romney is what steps are they willing to take right now that are going to make an actual difference. And so far what we’ve heard are additional tax cuts that the folks who are doing fine as opposed to taking steps that would actually help deal with the weaknesses in the economy and promote the economic growth that we’d all like to see.”
House Republicans also pushed back at Mr. Obama’s criticism of lawmakers for not acting on his jobs initiative, saying it was Mr. Obama’s “failed stimulus policies” that had dragged the economy down.