A year after claiming the economy as his own, Obama points finger at predecessor

President Obama this summer has repeatedly blamed George W. Bush for the nation’s economic woes, a year after he took ownership of the economy and criticized those who “carp and gripe.”

The White House’s effort to tie congressional Republicans to Obama’s predecessor comes less than three months before the midterm elections. But the president’s campaign speeches this summer are in contrast to a speech he delivered in Michigan last year when his approval ratings were 17 points higher.

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During a July 14, 2009, address in Warren, Mich., Obama said, “Now, my administration has a job to do, as well, and that job is to get this economy back on its feet. That's my job. And it’s a job I gladly accept. I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, ‘Well, this is Obama’s economy.’ That’s fine. Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe.”

At the time, the AP wrote, “With four simple words — ‘Give it to me’ — President Barack Obama took possession of the economy.”

Throughout this year, Obama has blamed Bush, and the criticism has intensified this month.

On Aug. 9 in Bush’s home state of Texas, Obama said the former president’s “disastrous” policies had damaged the economy, noting Bush inherited budget surpluses and ended his time in the White House with a budget deficit.

During a fundraiser with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in Seattle this week, Obama said, “Eighteen months ago, I took office after nearly a decade of economic policies that had given us sluggish growth, sluggish job growth, falling incomes, falling wages and a record deficit.”

Obama has explained that the reason he is highlighting the record of the previous administration is because the GOP is offering “retreads” of Bush’s policies.

Congressional Republicans have not spent much time talking about how they would govern differently than Bush did, though some conservatives have faulted the 43rd president for his record on government spending.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not directly answer a question on differences with Bush.

“The voters are interested in what’s happened in the last year and a half,” McConnell said. “They know who’s in charge… It is naïve of our friends on the other side to assume they can run again the ’06 and ’08 elections. This is going to be about the present, not the past.”

As Obama’s approval ratings have fallen though the year, more voters blame him for the state of the economy. A Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely voters found 48 percent blame Obama for the nation’s economic problems, while 47 percent fault Bush.

Almost six months ago, a similar Gallup poll reported that 42 percent of voters blamed Bush a “great deal” while only 26 percent said Obama deserved a great deal of blame.

Eugene Milhizer, the president and dean of Ava Maria School of Law, said, “I think Obama has got ownership of the economy, whether he wants it or not.”

Milhizer said it’s not unusual for a new president to inherit a struggling economy.

For months, Obama has said Republicans drove the economy into a ditch.

He recently said, “We’re slipping and sliding and sweating, and the other side, the Republicans, they’re standing with their Slurpees watching us.”

He added, “Finally, we get this car to level ground … and what happens? [Republicans] want the keys back. Well, you can’t have the keys back … You got us in the ditch.”

With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.5 percent and jobless claims at their highest level in nine months, Milhizer said, “Many people would say we’re in the ditch now.”

Republicans have repeatedly noted that the White House predicted the stimulus package would keep unemployment at 8 percent.

Congressional Democrats, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Barney Frank (Mass.), have publicly criticized the administration for making those predictions.

And while Obama and other Democrats claim the stimulus saved the country from another depression, Frank has said that in politics, “you don’t get credit for a crisis averted.”

While there is much unease about the direction of the country, Obama is optimistic that the U.S. will rebound.

During his speech in Seattle, Obama said, “The truth is it’s going to take a few years to fully dig ourselves out of this recession. It’s going to take time to bring back 8 million jobs. Anybody who tells you otherwise is just looking for your vote. But here’s what I can tell you: After 18 months, I have never been more confident that our nation is headed in the right direction.”

The White House did not comment for this article.