White House touts economic hot streak

The Obama administration on Thursday touted their economic successes this year, highlighting strong jobs and growth.

The White House is determined to define the economic recovery from one of the worst recessions in the nation's history as a major policy achievement for President Obama's legacy.

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Senior administration officials say the work on issues from education to housing and manufacturing to record U.S. energy production have lifted the economy from its rock-bottom doldrums to the fastest expansion in more than a decade. 

Top officials pointed to a broad range of milestones this year — jobs growth hit its fastest pace since 1999, more Americans have health insurance and high-school graduation rates are up along with more people earning advanced degrees.

Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters that there is every reason to think that the "positive trends are set to continue."

"It is important to focus on how strong economic growth was this year," he said on a conference call with reporters. 

Zients called 2014 a “milestone year” for the economy with an average of 4.2 percent annual growth over the past two quarters, the best six-month showing in more than a decade.

He also zeroed in on the nearly 11 million jobs created over 57 straight months, another record period of growth for the labor market.

The expansion has put the United States back into the “No. 1 place in the world to invest," he said.

Zients said that key to this year's expansion was the lack of fiscal crises on Capitol Hill.

He said that every economic dip along the bumpy road to stronger growth has been associated with budget and debt battles between Congress and the White House. 

"Self-inflicted wounds have a real effect on the economy," he said. 

Although the fiscal drama has largely faded in the past year, it could reignite between the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress, Zients cautioned.

To avoid the uncertainty, Zients said the White House would work with Congress on a broad range of issues including trade and tax reform "that will set up the country for more competitiveness and growth."

But he said the nation's economic weaknesses can't be ignored and that more work is needed to further boost growth.

To that end, he specifically called on Congress to pass a trade promotion authority bill he said would help put the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) into place once the deal reaches Capitol Hill.

He also urged lawmakers to pass a terrorism insurance risk bill as well as turn their focus to trade initiatives that can increase exports and economic growth. 

And, if needed, he said the White House would seek out new areas where executive actions may be needed to spur growth.

Overall, the White House pointed to U.S. oil and gas production, the improvement in the housing market and a shrinking deficit as reasons to be optimistic about future growth. 

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, pointed to widespread work on education.

Secretary of Labor Thomas Pérez said the administration would continue to operate under a job-driven approach that helps workers gain the skills needed to match up with job openings. 

"I'm very proud of what [we] accomplished and we know we have more work to do. We intend to continue to build upon this progress," he said.