- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2011

The drumbeat of sobering economic news in the country has the White House on the defensive, with Democrats and administration officials appearing on Sunday political shows to rebut Republican criticisms about the nation’s decades-high unemployment rate.

White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” objected testily to the use of the term “jobless recovery.”

“It is not a ‘jobless recovery.’ That is an incorrect phrase,” Mr. Goolsbee said. “After the last recession, in this comparable period post-recession, we had lost 100,000 jobs. We have added more than 200,000 jobs.”

Mr. Goolsbee, the chief of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said: “There’s a major difference between a jobless recovery and a very deep hole that were climbing out of.”

The White House is defending its economic programs after a week of continuous bad economic news.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent for May, and that 54,000 jobs were created during the month, far below expectations and about half of which were from a single employer — fast-food giant McDonald’s.

That comes on the heels of a week in which all three major stock indexes — the Dow Jones industrial average,Standard & Poor’s 500 and the Nasdaq composite index — lost ground for the fifth straight week, the longest run of consecutive weekly losses since summer 2008.

Also last week, Moody’s Investment Service announced that it will consider downgrading the nation’s credit rating if it doesn’t increase the debt limit by mid-July.

Republicans say the White House can’t sweep these results under the rug so quickly. They also point to history — no president has been re-elected with an unemployment rate this high since Franklin D. Roosevelt. And as high as they were, the unemployment rates of 1936 and 1940 were still far lower than the 23.6 percent rate of 1932, when Roosevelt was elected at the Great Depression’s height.

“President Obama is beatable when you’re looking at the extremely high unemployment numbers that still aren’t coming down as fast as they should be,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Republicans say Mr. Obama is paying “lip service” to the economy, and noted that unemployment and rising food and energy prices are the real barometers of economic well-being for most Americans.

“The policies of this administration are bad for the economy,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told Fox News. “While this administration has been great for Wall Street, Main Street has never really gotten out of the last recession.”

But Democrats counter that the Obama administration has softened the blow on what could have been a much worse environment for job hunters.

Mr. Goolsbee downplayed fears of a double-dip recession and told ABC’s “This Week” that the economy has come a long way from losing 780,000 jobs a month, when President Obama took office, to creating 2 million jobs since then.

“We’ve come a million miles from the moment that the president took office,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, agreed. “I think if he hadn’t taken the actions he did that the situation would be worse,” she told the CBS show “Face the Nation.”

“What the president has done has improved the situation from where it may have been,” she said, going on to blame Republicans for focusing too much on cutting the federal budget and deficit, and not enough on creating jobs.

“We have said every day that they’re there, another day goes by and there isn’t a jobs agenda or a jobs bill that has come to the floor,” she said. “Five months of this new Congress we haven’t seen a jobs agenda come forth from the Republicans.”

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said Friday that Republicans have nothing to do with the negative job numbers and blamed Democrats.

“This is now his economy,” he said at a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, referring to Mr. Obama. “And what he has done has failed the American people,” reprising a line from his campaign announcement last week.

Mr. Barbour went further, saying the president’s policies on taxes and health care have hurt the economy.

“He pays lip service to that, but his policies hurt that,” he said. “He wants to raise taxes, when raising taxes would hurt the economy. … What we need in our country is economic growth and job creation.”

And “Obamacare makes it harder to hire people. How do you hire people, if you don’t know what your obligations and costs are going to be for health care?”

While Mrs. Pelosi agreed that the unemployment numbers are “obviously very disturbing,” she said her party has a better jobs plan than Republicans.

“I think the party is going to say to the American people, to the middle class, ‘We want to create jobs, good-paying jobs, so that you can provide for your families.’”

Mr. Obama hit the same notes over the weekend, visiting a Chrysler plant in Ohio on Friday to highlight the turnaround of the auto industry. He reminded a national audience that each of the Big Three — Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors — are turning a profit for the first time since 2004.

Chrysler and GM — Ford was never in serious danger of collapse and took no government aid — have started to add more shifts and jobs.

“When I took office, we were facing the worst recession since the Great Depression, a recession that hit our auto industry particularly hard,” he said. “In the year before I was president, this industry lost more than 400,000 jobs, and two great iconic American companies, Chrysler and GM, stood on the brink of collapse.”

“So I said, if GM and Chrysler were willing to take the difficult steps of restructuring and making themselves more competitive, the American people would stand by them, and we did,” he said.

In his weekly address Saturday, the president acknowledged the problems with the jobs report.

“Weve got a ways to go. Even though our economy has created more than 2 million private-sector jobs over the past 15 months and continues to grow, were facing some tough headwinds. Lately, its high gas prices, the earthquake in Japan, and unease about the European fiscal situation. That will happen from time to time. There will be bumps on the road to recovery,” he said in a speech, which was taped Friday at the Toledo auto plant.

David Eldridge contributed to this report.

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