HOLLAND, Michigan (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought to reassert economic leadership on Thursday by pledging to deliver new ideas every week to create jobs, and he slammed Congress for “bickering” that hurts economic recovery.
In a passionate speech to auto industry workers aimed at deflecting public anger over policy gridlock in Washington, Obama said the refusal to put country ahead of party “has got to stop.”
His hopes for reelection in 2012 will hinge on his success in lowering unemployment, currently pinned above 9 percent, and boosting sluggish economic growth, and he promised to deliver fresh approaches.
“I’ll be laying out more proposals in the days ahead,” Obama, a Democrat, said. The problem was not a lack of answers to the pressing issue of economic growth and hiring, rather it was people “playing political games,” he said.
But Obama did not spell out any new initiatives beyond renewing his call for Congress to extend a payroll tax cut, advance trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, and deliver patent reform.
The president has few tools left to stoke growth. Fiscal stimulus efforts during the 2008-2009 recession, including a multibillion-dollar auto industry bailout, have vastly expanded the budget deficit. Now the United States is under market pressure to slash it or face higher funding costs.
Republicans on Capitol Hill — and on the presidential campaign trail — strongly oppose big, new spending programs and are giving the White House little wiggle room to boost hiring through public works programs or business incentives.
“There are some folks in Congress who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win,” Obama told an audience at a battery facility in Michigan, a car-producing state that was hard hit by the recession and which he hopes to win again in the 2012 election.
Critics complain the president has failed to assure Americans during one of the worst weeks in the stock market since he took office amid the financial crisis in January 2009.
But the president remains more popular than Congress, whose approval rating slumped after a toxic debate to lift the U.S. debt ceiling prompted a downgrade of the nation’s AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor’s and an ensuing stock market rout.
Markets have whipsawed this week. U.S. stocks shot up 4 percent on Thursday.
Obama blamed the violent market gyrations on forces beyond his control, noting European financial turmoil was “lapping up” on U.S. shores, while the credit rating downgrade had been a “self-inflicted wound”.
“This downgrade you’ve been reading about could have been entirely avoided if there had been a willingness to compromise in Congress,” the president said.
The downgrade came after lawmakers failed to agree on sufficiently large cuts in the country’s deficit during negotiations to lift the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling.
Fiscally conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives rejected tax hikes, undermining a grand bargain between Obama and Republican leaders that could have lowered the deficit by up to $4 trillion over 10 years.
Additional reporting by Lily Kuo, Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Alister Bull; Editing by Paul Simao