Obama launches economic counter-attack
WASHINGTON: Despite staggering job losses and nationwide financial misery, President Barack Obama has a new message for recession-weary Americans: the pulse of the sickly US economy is quickening.
With his once sky-high approval ratings eroding by the week as Republican foes slash away at his ambitious domestic reform plans, Obama is seeking to remold the debate on the economic crisis.
His efforts come ahead of new unemployment figures due on Friday that analysts expect to show the jobless rate climbing to a 26-year high of 9.6 percent, ever closer to the politically perilous 10 percent barrier.
On Wednesday, Obama traveled to the heart of the meltdown, to a corner of midwestern Indiana, where the unemployment rate is around 16 percent, to mount a staunch defense of his 787-billion-dollar economic rescue package.
"There are those who want to seek political advantage, they want to oppose these efforts," Obama said.
"Some of them caused the problems that we have got now in the first place, and then suddenly they're blaming other folks for it."
Obama's assault also had the feel of a pep talk to those on the edge of despair, as he unveiled a 2.4-billion-dollar program to develop electric hybrid vehicles, which he said would create tens of thousands of jobs.
"We don't give up. We don't surrender our fates to chance... this country wasn't built just by griping and complaining. It was built by hard work and taking risks."
Obama previewed his new message in his weekly radio address on Saturday, claiming his policies were having direct results.
"In the last few months, the economy has done measurably better than expected. And many economists suggest that part of this progress is directly attributable to the Recovery Act," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden, who made his own trip to a depressed corner of the midwest, in Michigan on Wednesday, is echoing Obama's call.
"I can tell you today without reservation: the Recovery Act is working," Biden said on Tuesday.
The administration offensive on behalf of the mammoth recovery plan, passed in the darkest days of crisis, is grounded on solid political reality.
Recent polls show Obama's popularity eroding, with growing doubts over his handling of the economy and the huge price of his government rescue interventions in the banking and industrial centers. His healthcare reform plan is facing a tough ride in Congress.
A USA-Today Gallup poll for instance last month showed Obama's approval rating at 55 percent, six months into his presidency, with pessimism over the pace of recovery draining his momentum.
A few months ago, Republicans, seeking to dent the euphoria surrounding Obama's historic inauguration, accused the president of talking down the economy for political gain.
Now they say it is much worse than the president is letting on, mounting a furious attack on his program, in the hope of damaging vulnerable Democratic members of Congress in conservative districts.
John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, last week promised Democrats a "long, hot summer" and assailed the rescue plan.
"They passed a trillion-dollar stimulus plan that no one read, and it's not created the jobs that Democrats said that it would."
Both Republicans and the White House know that if the stimulus plan can be cast in the public mind as a failure, Obama's political leverage and ability to pass a sweeping reform agenda could be at risk.
So the administration has spent this week, the last before the Congress's summer break, arguing the initial work of stemming the financial slide is over and must now give way to rebuilding a sustainable economy.
Some economic indicators do offer ammunition for the administration, suggesting the pace of decline has slowed.
A new survey by the Institute of Supply Management suggested on Monday that the factory sector moved within striking distance of growth in July.
And top administration officials are now saying that expansion is highly likely to resume in the second half of this year.
But even if economic revival is stirring, punishing job loss figures may be obscuring evidence of recovery for ordinary Americans.
Obama though argues that better economic statistics will revive the labor markets down the road.
"History shows that you need to have economic growth before you have job growth... eventually, businesses will start growing and hiring again," he said Saturday.
"And that's when it will really feel like a recovery to the American people."