3:52pm

Fri July 8, 2011
Politics

Obama Scrambles To Respond To Bleak Jobs Report

After a terrible unemployment report in May, people hoped for a change of direction in the latest numbers. But the jobs report that came out Friday morning shows that the situation is even worse today. The economy created only 18,000 jobs in June. Unemployment rose for the second month in a row, hitting 9.2 percent. The Obama White House tried to put the best face on a dismal situation as the stalling recovery provided an opportunity for Republicans to continue hammering the president's economic policies.

In the White House Rose Garden, clouds rushed in and the wind whipped ominously.

It was an apt setting for President Obama's late-morning announcement.

"Today's job report confirms what most Americans already know," Obama said. "We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to give people the security and opportunity that they deserve."

The president tried to lay some blame at Congress' feet. He said lawmakers could pass a handful of policies today to create jobs. His list included an infrastructure bank, free trade deals and patent reform.

"There are bills and trade agreements before Congress right now that could get all these ideas moving," he said. "All of them have bipartisan support, all of them could pass immediately, and I encourage Congress not to wait."

But as the country's chief executive, a big heap of responsibility falls in the president's lap. Republicans were quick to point that out at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

"The president always tells us he inherited a bad situation. I concede the point," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. "But he has made it worse. And after 2 1/2 years it is time for him to take responsibility, and to answer the question 'Where are the jobs?' "

It is a question people inside the White House are trying to answer too.

"The first thing you do as a member of the economics team is to try to understand why the numbers are so much worse than you expected," says economist Jared Bernstein, who used to advise Vice President Biden. "But then you pretty quickly go into a messaging mode and try to figure out how you're going to explain what's going on to the American people."

Bernstein, who is now with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the messaging was easier when the economy was slowly bumping along, creating a couple of hundred thousand jobs per month.

"You could go out there and say things are getting better, they're just not getting better at a quick enough pace. But when you're really stuck in neutral like this, when the job market is in a stall, you can't really try to push that message."

Last month the White House called the bad numbers a bump in the road, and officials warned against reading too much into any one report. Two months in a row starts to look like a trend, though.

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Friday morning, Republican strategist Ed Gillespie warned the White House against trying to minimize the problem.

"When [voters] hear people like the president of the United States say it's just a bump in the road or things aren't that bad, it's like nails on the chalkboard to them. So today is just reinforcing last month, which I thought was a seminal moment in the arc of the re-election campaign."

Washington faces a much more immediate problem than the presidential campaign.

The U.S. could default on its financial obligations unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by Aug. 2. Republicans and Democrats are negotiating on an ambitious budget deal to trim the national debt and avoid default. Each used today's unemployment report to bolster their party's argument.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the weak job market is all the more reason to cut a deal now. "One thing we can do something about immediately is to move these negotiations forward and reach an agreement," he said.

House Speaker John Boehner used the stagnant economy to argue that the deal should not include any tax increases, saying, "Tax hikes on families and job creators will only make things worse."

The two sides will hash it out in person when they meet at the White House for another round of talks on Sunday.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

After a terrible unemployment report last month, there were hopes and forecasts that this month would be better. That is not the case. This morning, the latest employment report showed the economy added far fewer jobs than expected for June - only 18,000 - and unemployment rose to 9.2 percent.

As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, President Obama is trying to put the best face on a dismal situation.

ARI SHAPIRO: In the White House Rose Garden, clouds rushed in and the wind whipped ominously. It was an apt setting for President Obama's message.

President BARACK OBAMA: In today's job report, confirms what most Americans already know. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to give people the security and opportunity that they deserve.

SHAPIRO: He tried to lay some blame at Congress' feet. The president said lawmakers could pass a handful of policies today to create jobs, from an infrastructure bank to free trade deals to patent reform.

President OBAMA: There are bills and trade agreements before Congress right now that could get all these ideas moving. All of them have bipartisan support, all of them could pass immediately, and I urge Congress not to wait.

President OBAMA: But as the country's chief executive, a big heap of responsibility falls in the president's lap, as Republicans, including Congressman Jeb Hensarling, pointed out at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Congressman JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): The president always tells us he inherited a bad situation. I concede the point. But he has made it worse. And after 2 1/2 years, it is time for him to take responsibility, and to answer the question, where are the jobs?

SHAPIRO: It's a question people inside the White House are trying to answer, too.

Mr. JARED BERNSTEIN (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): The first thing you do as a member of the economics team is try to understand it, try to understand why the results are so much worse than you expected. And then, you pretty quickly go into a messaging mode and try to figure out how you're going to explain what's going on to the American people.

SHAPIRO: Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities used to be an economic advisor to Vice President Biden.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: When the job market was bumping along, adding one to two hundred jobs per month, you could go out there and say, things are getting better, they're just not getting better at a quick enough pace. But when you're really stuck in neutral like this, when the job market is in a stall, you can't really try to push that message.

SHAPIRO: Last month, the White House said the bad numbers were a bump in the road. They warned against reading too much into any one jobs report. But two months in a row starts to look like a trend.

At a breakfast today hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Republican pollster Ed Gillespie said minimizing the problem does not do the White House any good with voters.

Mr. ED GILLESPIE (pollster): When they hear people say, like the president of the United States, well, we - it's just a bump in the road or, you know, things are not that bad, it's like nails on the chalkboard to them. So I - you know, today is just, like, reinforcing last month, which I thought was a seminal moment in the arc of the re-election campaign.

SHAPIRO: Washington is facing a much more immediate problem than the presidential campaign. The U.S. could default on its debts unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by August 2nd. Republicans and Democrats are negotiating on an ambitious budget deal to trim the national debt and avoid default. Each party used today's unemployment report to bolster their argument.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the weak job market is all the more reason to cut a deal now.

Mr. JAY CARNEY (White House spokesman): One thing we can do something about immediately is to move these negotiations forward and reach an agreement.

SHAPIRO: And House Speaker John Boehner said it's all the more reason not to include any tax increases in the deal.

Speaker JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Tax hikes on families and job creators would only make things worse.

SHAPIRO: The two sides will hash it out in person when they meet at the White House for another round of talks on Sunday.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.