House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor respond… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- GOP congressional leaders launched an orchestrated round of attacks on President Obama's assessment that private companies are doing "fine" in the sluggish economy, essentially ridiculing the White House's assertion that it is the public sector that needs government support to keep teachers, firefighters and other employees on the job.
"Mr. President, take it from me, the private sector is not doing fine," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said after Obama's comments Friday, reminding listeners that he was a small-business owner before coming to Congress 20 years ago.
"Are you kidding? Did he see the job numbers that came out last week?" said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), referring to May's dismal Labor Department report. "The private sector is not doing fine."
The Republican leaders showed no appetite for increased government spending, and instead renewed their push to extend tax breaks on all Americans, including the wealthy, that are set to expire at the end of the year, alongside new spending cuts to reduce the nation's debt.
Democrats want to keep the tax breaks only for the middle class, and raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year to help curb the deficit.
Both approaches are problematic, analysts have said, as is the continued stalemate in Congress. New taxes or another round of austerity measures would threaten the economy, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has warned, potentially hurling the nation into another recession early next year.
The surprisingly anemic job-growth report has jolted both presidential campaigns. Although the poor showing was felt across the economy, the Labor Department said certain sectors performed better than others.
Jobs in manufacturing continued to trend up, as did employment in transportation, healthcare and wholesale trade. However, construction jobs continued to decline and other sectors including professional services, retail, leisure/hospital -- and government -- showed little change or growth, according to the report.
Just before the report last week, small businesses had been enjoying a better outlook this spring. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents many small businesses nationwide, saw a "great report for profits and sales" for April even as it projected only "small improvements" in hiring or spending for the year.