President Obama said Friday the unemployment rate dropping below 5 percent is proof that his economic recovery is working, and blasted Republican presidential candidates for “running down the economy.”
“We should be proud of the progress we’ve made,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the White House press room.
He chastised Republican presidential candidates for ignoring good economic news.
“The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” Mr. Obama said. “I know that’s still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire. I guess you cannot please everybody.”
The president even trumpeted the fact that gasoline prices are down, just a day after he announced his plan to charge a new fee on oil that could raise the price of gas by 25 cents per gallon.
Referring to the proposal to charge a $10-per-barrel fee on oil, Mr. Obama said, “It’s right to do it now when gas prices are really low. And they will be low for quite some time to come. So, it’s not going to be a disruptive factor in terms of the economy.”
Mr. Obama said the fee would be imposed on both imported and exported oil, although his chief economic adviser, Jeffrey Zients, told reporters Thursday that the fee would apply only to oil that is imported into the U.S.
Mr. Zients said oil drilled in the U.S. that is exported would not be taxed, ensuring a “level playing field” for American producers.
The White House later confirmed that the president was wrong, and that the fee would cover “imported and domestically produced crude oil and refined fuels that are burned in the United States.”
Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and other Republican lawmakers have vowed that the proposal will not become law. The speaker’s office on Friday called the fee a “radical” tax and said Mr. Obama “wants to cement his legacy as the most anti-energy president.”
The chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees are so dismayed with the proposed oil fee and other spending proposals from the White House that they have rejected the traditional meeting with the president’s budget chief next week after the budget is formally presented to Congress on Tuesday.
The government reported Friday that the unemployment rate in January fell to 4.9 percent, its lowest level in eight years. The president said the report shows “Americans are working.”
But asked about polls that show roughly two-thirds of Americans feel the country is on the wrong track, and that the labor force participation rate remains low, Mr. Obama acknowledged “there’s still anxiety and concern about the general direction of the economy.”
He blamed it on lingering effects from the recession that began before he took office.
“There’s still a pretty big carryover from the devastation that took place in 2007-2008,” Mr. Obama said. “A lot of people still feel that.”
The president also blamed Republican presidential candidates for scaring the public about the economy.
“As far as I can tell, those who are running down the economy and adding to the anxiety, don’t seem to have any plausible coherent recipe other than cut taxes for the very folks who have been doing the best in this economy, and somehow magically that’s going to make other folks feel good,” Mr. Obama said.
He also accused the GOP of fomenting social and class divisions.
“Alternatively, they argue that the reason you’re feeling insecure is because immigrants or poor people are taking more and more of your paycheck, and that is just not true,” Mr. Obama said. “The facts don’t bear that out.”
After taking a victory lap on the economy and defending his proposed fee on oil to pay for green energy initiatives, the departing Mr. Obama was asked by a reporter about his mood.
“I am in a good mood,” the president said. “I feel great.”