Updated: 7:35 p.m.
Republicans wasted no time today pouncing on President Barack Obama’s pronouncement that the private sector is “doing fine,” ridiculing him as being out of touch with reality.
In a press conference this morning, Obama went on the offensive against Congressional Republicans, arguing that the private sector has been enjoying record profits while state and local governments and the construction industry continue to suffer job losses. He then urged Congress to pass a series of his jobs plans aimed at bolstering state governments and infrastructure programs.
“If Republicans want to be helpful … what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments, how do we help the construction industry,” Obama said.
Later in the afternoon, with Republicans hammering him over the comment, Obama clarified his remarks in the Oval Office after a meeting with the president of the Philippines.
“Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That’s the reason I had the press conference. That’s why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger,” Obama said according to a transcript of his remarks released by the White House. “The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work.”
But by that point much of the damage had been done, as the verbal gaffe set off the sort of short-lived but brightly burning “scandal” that has typified the 2012 election cycle.
“Listen, Mr. President, I used to own a small business. So, Mr. President, take it from me, the private sector is not doing well,” Speaker John Boehner said in response to Obama’s initial comment.
“The American people are still asking the question, where are the jobs,” the Ohio Republican added.
“Are you kidding me?” mocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican insisted the nation’s continued economic woes are “not because of House Republicans. It’s because of the failed stimulus policies” of the Obama administration.
Likewise Sen. Roy Bunt (R-Mo.) called Obama’s statement “ridiculous” and argued it “underscores just how out of touch this administration is when it comes to understanding the real economic challenges facing families, seniors and job creators nationwide.”
Republicans also dismissed Obama’s arguments for expanded spending on state and local governments.
When asked if a lack of federal support for those programs has hurt the economy Boehner said “no.” He blamed the sluggish economy on “government continuing to spend money we don’t have.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed those comments on Fox News and said the president’s attempts to blame Republicans “is becoming tiresome.”
McConnell quipped that the president has blamed not only Republicans but the Japanese tsunami, the Supreme Court and “rich people” for the nation’s economic woes.
Meanwhile, Boehner also slammed the administration over allegations that the White House colluded with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to push for passage of Obama’s signature health care reform law.
Pointing to White House emails released by the Energy and Commerce Committee this week indicating White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina worked with PhRMA to set up an outside group to back passage, Boehner charged the administration had engaged in “backroom deals that led to its passage.”
The White House and PhRMA “created and managed a super PAC paid for by PhRMA and run by Jim Messina out of the West Wing. This is wrong and the administration must be held accountable,” he added.