Obama defends Democrats’ efforts on the economy

Urges Congress to pass tax cut for middle class

President Obama made his appeal at a press conference in the East Room of the White House. President Obama made his appeal at a press conference in the East Room of the White House. (Nicholas Kamm/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post / September 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON — President Obama said yesterday that if the midterm elections become a referendum on which political party has the most effective agenda to improve the economy, rather than a decision on its current state, “the Democrats will do very well.’’

“Even after all the progress we’ve made, we’re not there yet, and that means people are frustrated, people are angry,’’ Obama said at a wide-ranging news conference at the White House. “It’s understandable that people are asking, ‘What have you done?’ ’’

The president said his policies were helping but “the hole the recession left was huge and progress has been painfully slow.’’

Obama said Republicans were thwarting his efforts to improve the economy, and he challenged Congress to quit partisan bickering and quickly approve expiring tax cuts for the middle class.

Obama said he would use the fall campaign season to remind voters of the sinking economy he inherited when he took office and what measures he has since put in place, with help from a Democratic Congress.

Many of those initiatives have proved to be unpopular with much of the country, creating a political climate harmful to his party heading into the November elections. Obama has referred to those political difficulties in recent weeks, but he attempted to provide his party hope yesterday by signaling that he believes the Democrats can win on the strength of their ideas.

Obama highlighted several new economic proposals this week, including business tax breaks for research and investments, that Republicans have said are designed chiefly to appeal to voters.

Obama used the news conference largely to defend his management of the economy, which is showing new signs of weakness, and to draw sharp distinctions between his party and the Republican opposition.

He focused largely on the debate over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for households making $250,000 or more — a “perfect example,’’ he said, of the vastly different ways the parties view the economy. He called them “tax cuts for millionaires.’’

Extending tax cuts for those higher-income households — something Republicans favor — would cost the federal government $700 billion over the next 10 years. Obama said the money would add to the deficit and would be better spent on “growing the middle class,’’ which he said has been his primary economic goal since taking office.

The president made some news in announcing he was naming White House economist Austan Goolsbee to succeed Christina Romer as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers.

The 41-year-old Goolsbee is already a central player on the Obama economic team, having served on the three-member economic council since the start of the administration. He was economic adviser on Obama’s 2004 Senate race and a senior economic policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Goolsbee’s promotion doesn’t require Senate confirmation because he was confirmed as a member of the council last year.

On the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Obama was asked why more Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam than at any point since the event, according to recent polls.

“At a time when the country is anxious generally, and going through a tough time, fears surface, suspicions can surface in a society,’’ Obama said.

“I will do everything I can to tell the American people that we are one nation, under God — even though we may call that God different things,’’ he said.

Background: A native of Waco, Texas, he grew up in California and graduated from Milton Academy. He received his bachelor’s from Yale University and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he was a Fulbright Scholar. He was only in his 20s when he became a professor at the University of Chicago’s business school. He was named to the Council of Economic Advisers by President Obama. At age 41, he’s the youngest to become council chairman in more than 40 years.

Views: Known as an expert on tax policy and its effect on taxpayers, the Internet, the new economy, and investment in human capital, he is considered a centrist on most economic issues and backs free trade. He advocates a simplified tax system, in which the IRS sends filers a statement of what they owe instead of blank tax forms.

Interests: A triathlete, he is comfortable in front of a crowd and on television, and has performed in an improv comedy troupe.

Source: The New York Times, Washington Post