The chairs of lawmakers departing for their summer recess had barely cooled Wednesday when the White House tried to shift blame onto Congress for the faltering economy.
A day after President Obama quietly signed legislation to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, a move the administration said would calm financial markets, stocks gained ground, but not nearly enough to recover from eight days of heavy losses.
At a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Obama told reporters the debt crisis - for which he blames House Republicans - created “an unnecessary negative impact on the economy.”
The president also criticized lawmakers for failing to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and putting thousands out of work, calling it “a good example of how undone work here in Washington can have an adverse impact on that economy.” He said he called his Cabinet together to make sure “they are redoubling their efforts” to improve the economy.
With an unemployment report coming Friday that is likely to be weak again, presidential spokesman Jay Carney tried to turn the media’s focus to other actions of Republican lawmakers who had just left town.
“Dismantling Medicare - is that going to put people back to work?” Mr. Carney asked rhetorically. “Slashing clean-energy investments - will that put people back to work? I don’t hear a lot of jobs plans coming from other quarters.”
Republicans countered that Mr. Obama, whose $828 billion stimulus plan failed to deliver the promised results, is out of ideas for improving the economy.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Mr. Obama is “in over his head as to what to do about this economy.”
“I don’t think he’s ever run a business. I don’t think he’s ever really created a job,” Mr. Cantor said in an online interview with the Wall Street Journal. He added that their face-to-face negotiations gave him the sense that Mr. Obama is “not someone who has a grounding in what business is about in this country.”
House Republicans also pointed to a dozen bills they have introduced to create jobs, including cutting government regulation and expanding oil drilling, nearly all of which stalled in the Democrat-led Senate.
In addition to holding his third Cabinet meeting of the year, the president also treated senior aides who worked on the debt talks to lunch at a burger joint, then flew Wednesday night to Chicago for a fundraiser party to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Upon his arrival in the Windy City, he was greeted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, and he addressed supporters attending birthday parties in his honor nationwide via videoconference, referencing the long battle ahead in his bid for re-election. Mr. Obama was to spend the evening at a dinner with high-dollar campaign donors.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the fundraising trip “another case of this president’s rhetoric not matching his deeds.”
“He’s tried all week to try this spin that now the White House is pivoting to jobs, which they’ve tried many times before, and the first job Obama is interested in saving is his own,” Mr. Priebus told reporters in a conference call.
As lawmakers return to their districts for town-hall meetings, which have become hotbeds of revolt against Mr. Obama’s policies, the White House said the president will make a bus tour through the Midwest from Aug. 15 to 17. Mr. Carney wouldn’t divulge the itinerary, but said the president will be “refocusing” on jobs after “a lot of talk in Washington about debt ceilings and deficits.”
“While those are important issues … and they are important to jobs, there are other things we can do directly that affect jobs,” Mr. Carney said. “It’s continuing the focus we’ve had, and allowing us to focus more intently now that we have reached the compromise” on deficits.
He repeated the president’s call for Congress to approve trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia - pacts that have been stalled in a dispute over benefits for displaced workers - and patent reform, among other items.
The president has argued that the debt ceiling needed to be raised to avoid government default on its obligations and to lift the “cloud of uncertainty” roiling financial markets. But even after the deal was announced Sunday, stock markets plunged, with the Dow Jones losing more than 260 points Tuesday.
Mr. Obama’s former top economist, Lawrence H. Summers, wrote in an Op-Ed piece Wednesday that economic indicators “suggest that the economy has at least a 1-in-3 chance of falling back into recession if nothing new is done to raise demand and spur growth.”
Mr. Carney downplayed that suggestion.
“We do not believe that there is a threat there of a double-dip recession,” Mr. Carney said. “We believe that the economy will continue to grow. We believe that if we make the right decisions about dealing with our debt and dealing with our deficits, taking measures that are responsible and effective to help create jobs and grow the economy, that other things like markets will take care of themselves.”