GOP leaders hit Obama for saying that private sector is 'doing fine'

House Republican leaders responded curtly to President Obama’s statement on Friday that the private sector is “doing fine”: No, they said, it isn’t.

“Mr. President, I used to run a small business. Mr. President, take it from me: The private sector is not doing well,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a hastily arranged Capitol press conference to respond to Obama.

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Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) chimed in: “The question from me to the president: Are you kidding me? When you see the jobs numbers that came out last week, the private sector is not doing fine.

“I would ask the president to stop engaging in the blame game. It’s not because of the headwinds in Europe,” Cantor added. “It’s not because of House Republicans. It’s because of the failed stimulus policies and the other items in his agenda that small businesses in this country just aren’t growing.”

The question of what impact the debt crisis in Europe is having on the U.S. economy has tripped up Republicans in recent days. On Thursday, Boehner said the recession in Europe “is affecting our economy today.”

After saying the recent slowdown was not, as the Obama administration has argued, partly the result of “headwinds” from Europe, Cantor was asked if he agreed with Boehner’s statement.

“Sure,” he replied. “Europe is a problem. There’s no question about that. It is providing a liquidity issue to the global economy. There is certainly a sense that governments in that continent are not addressing their problems, and it should be a signal to all of us that we’ve got to get serious. I agree wholeheartedly with the Speaker.”

Boehner said the crisis in Europe should spur the United States to confront its soaring national debt head-on, and he reiterated his call for Obama to engage with Congress before the election on the “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax and spending policies at the end of the year.

“Just because Europe has problems doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to solve our problems,” Boehner said. “There’s no excuse why we should wait for the convenience of the election.”

The Speaker said the austerity measures that many European countries have adopted are not the cause of their economic problems. “The reason Europe is in the shape that it’s in is because they waited too long to deal with their problems,” Boehner said. “Remember one thing: It’s the debt in Europe. And if we don’t get busy dealing with our debt, we’re going to be in the same position. We have time to deal with it.”