As President Obama traveled to Texas to press his case for devoting a billion dollars to more job-growth programs, White House officials back in Washington were denying that interest in solving the country’s long-term budget woes is waning among Democrats.
Mr. Obama made a swing Thursday through Austin, Texas, where the job market has been booming, to try to revive interest in his languishing economic initiatives, such as increasing the minimum wage and devoting more resources to boosting manufacturing jobs through public-private partnerships around the country.
The president’s trip is the first in a series the White House plans in the next few months as part of Mr. Obama’s “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour” across the country.
During his remarks at Manor New Technology High School, Mr. Obama focused on positive economic indicators and tried to make the case for more government-funded stimulus to spur job growth and higher incomes for the middle class.
“There are a lot of reasons for us to feel optimistic about where we’re headed as a country,” he said, citing the lowest unemployment numbers since the 2008 economic crisis, falling deficits and a more stable housing market.
He spoke about the need for students to learn high-tech skills to get jobs when they graduate and pressed Congress for $1 billion to support 15 manufacturing innovation institutes — partnerships featuring the government, private enterprise and universities. The president Thursday issued an order launching competitions for three manufacturing innovation institutes at a cost of $200 million.
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Reacting to news of Mr. Obama’s latest jobs tour, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, dismissed it as a desperate attempt by the president to “pivot back to jobs” with nothing to show from previous attempts to revive the job market.
“Listen, the Obama administration promised that if its ‘stimulus’ plan was enacted, the unemployment rate today would be approximately 5 percent, but the unemployment rate is at 7.5 percent,” he said. “The president doesn’t seem to understand it’s his policies that are undermining economic growth and job creation.”
In a move orchestrated to coincide with the trip to Texas, Mr. Obama also unveiled an executive order mandating that newly released government data be made freely available in “open, machine-readable formats” to enable entrepreneurs to generate products and services. The administration said this action will make “troves” of previously inaccessible data available “while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security.”
While the president was in Texas, White House were fending off questions about whether Democratic momentum for reaching a grand budget bargain was subsiding as the economy has shown signs of improvement and the IRS is collecting more revenue.
Federal tax revenues are up 16 percent this year compared to 2012, helping to power a major drop in the federal deficit, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday. Even with Congress deadlocked, the numbers show the budget picture improving.
Officials denied any lost focus on long-term deficit reduction and expressed deep concerns over the possibility of Washington failing to put an end to the sequester cuts, which began in April and are scheduled to cut $87 billion to $92 billion in spending each year for 10 years.
“[The sequester] has zero entitlement savings — it ends after 10 years,” said Gene B. Sperling, director of the president’s National Economic Council. “It does absolutely nothing to deal with some of our revenue gaps, which experts across the aisle say is at the heart of our fiscal challenges and experts agree that it is hurting job growth.”
The president’s policies, Mr. Boehner countered, are the real reason unemployment numbers stubbornly remain above 7 percent.
“Slow growth can’t become the new normal,” he said.