White House shifts focus to economy

Shifting the national conversation to the economy after a week of intense focus on Syria, the Obama administration now is highlighting its policy response to the Great Recession. 

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In a report released late Sunday, the White House is trumpeting the steps President Obama has taken over the last four-and-a-half years to address the economic downturn, the worst since the Great Depression, and linking them to the recovery. [Read White House report below.]

Summarizing the report, Gene Sperling, Obama's chief economic advisor, argued that those efforts, while controversial, were also necessary to prevent the economy from sinking further.

Singling out several programs as particularly important — including the continuation of the Bush administration's bailouts of Detroit and Wall Street — Sperling maintained that those initiatives not only propped up the economy but ultimately provided taxpayers with a return on their investment.

"[They] have worked out much better than critics had predicted," he said during a conference call on the report.

The report was released on the five-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, one of the world's largest investment banks, which went under Sept. 15, 2008.

Although the nation's housing market began teetering as early as 2006, Washington's concerted response was propelled by the Lehman failure. Indeed, then-President George W. Bush rammed his Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bill through Congress less than three weeks later — an initiative Sperling called the "most necessary and politically controversial program" ever undertaken by consecutive administrations.

Obama entered the White House shortly afterward and quickly passed his economic stimulus bill, a series of spending hikes and tax cuts designed to empower consumers and give the economy a jolt. He also extended the auto bailout, launched a series of programs to stem foreclosures and championed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, which is designed to protect consumers from bank mischief.

Obama on Friday maintained that the recovery, to this point, has been largely driven by those targeted steps.

"Think about where we were five years ago. The economy was on the verge of a great depression," Obama said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that aired Sunday. "And we came in, stabilized the situation. We’ve now had 42 straight months of growth, seven-and-a-half million new jobs created: 500,000 jobs in manufacturing [and] 370,000 jobs in an auto industry that had completely collapsed."

"So we have seen, I think undoubtedly, progress across the board," he added.

Republicans and other conservative critics of Obama, however, take strong exception to the notion that the president's policies have fueled the recovery. They argue, rather, that he's crippled the recovery by spending too much taxpayer money and placing undue burdens on private enterprise — a message they're highlighting in their ongoing drive to repeal ObamaCare.

"Protecting taxpayer dollars is one of Washington’s most important responsibilities," Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said Saturday, delivering the GOP's radio address. "And everything we do to stop waste and fix broken government removes obstacles to creating jobs and building a stronger economy."

Obama on Friday acknowledged that there's much more work to be done. "We’re not near where we need to be," he said. But he also rejected the idea that's he's crippled the recovery.

"Everything that I’ve done has been designed to, No. 1, stabilize the economy, get it growing again [and] start producing jobs again," he said.

Obama will highlight the report Monday morning with a speech from the White House Rose Garden, where he'll be joined by people of various professions who say they've benefited from his policy initiatives.

White House Report: The Financial Crisis Five Years Later