WASHINGTON — On a day when the nation’s official economic umpires said the recession ended over a year ago, President Obama spent an hour on TV Monday defending his handling of the economy and charging critics from the “tea party” with “misidentifying who the culprits” are behind economic tough times.
For slightly over an hour, Obama appeared at a town-hall-style gathering called “Investing in America,” hosted by the business cable channel CNBC at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington. He admitted that “times are tough for everybody right now” and noted that the recovery fostered by his policies “is slow and steady as opposed to a quick fix.”
The National Bureau of Economic Research, a panel of academic experts responsible for dating recessions, said the recession lasted 18 months and ended in July, 2009. It was the longest recession the country has endured since World War II, and cost the economy 7.3 million jobs, the panel said.
When asked about tea party critics of his policies, Obama first noted that the US has a “noble tradition of being helpfully skeptical about government.” But he said the problem he saw in the debate about the direction of the country now taking place was that the wrong “culprits” were being blamed. He then noted that under President George W. Bush there were two tax cuts and two wars that were not paid for.
The president told CNBC anchor John Harwood that the challenge for the tea party is “identifying specifically what you would do” to deal with economic problems since often solutions involve “very difficult choices.” The president added that the nation would “not be able to solve these problems just by yelling at each other.”
Obama disputed tea party activists who argue that the government is now engaged in activities which go beyond the scope of what is authorized in the US Constitution. He argued that “the federal government is probably less intrusive now than 30 years ago.”
In response to an audience member who charged the Obama administration with treating the business community like a piñata, the president responded, “there is a big chunk of the country that thinks I’ve been too soft” on Wall Street.
When asked if he would debate policy proposals with House Minority Leader John Boehner, he said it was “premature” to expect Boehner to be the next speaker of the House, something that would happen if the Democrats lose their majority in the House.
Sitting in front of a studio audience that included business executives and students, the president reiterated his oft-repeated call for patience with the pace of the economic recovery which has resulted in a 9.6 percent unemployment rate. “It has not happened fast enough. I know how frustrated people are,” he said.