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Obama Camp Defends ‘Incomplete’ Grade on Economy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A passel of President Barack Obama’s spokespeople defended the president’s self-imposed grade of “incomplete” for his job on the economy Tuesday and reiterated Vice President Joseph Biden’s attack on Mitt Romney as the recipient of a federal “bailout.”

Pressed by ABC’s Jake Tapper on whether the president’s recent assessment of his success “cuts it,” campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter replied that it does given the state of the economy when he took office: “When he’s saying incomplete, it means a number of different things. One: we’re on a path forward. You know, we’re on our way up. And there is a lot more that he wants to get done. He’s not done yet.”

Cutter, campaign manager Jim Messina and spokesman Ben LaBolt appeared at a Yahoo/ABC News forum at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Separately, spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki and Josh Earnest, White House deputy press secretary, also defended the “incomplete” remark during a separate press gaggle.

Psaki noted that Obama has given himself that grade many times in the past and said what it means “is that there’s more work he wants to do. The alternative is to go back to the old playbook of failing policies and failing grades.”

Earnest, meanwhile, tied the “incomplete” to House Republicans blocking Obama’s jobs proposals, including tax cuts, infrastructure and money to hire teachers and firefighters.

But the president’s remark gave more fuel to the Romney campaign narrative that Obama has failed on the economy.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul quickly pounced. “Four years ago, President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” she said. “Now, according to the Obama campaign, ‘incomplete’ is a perfectly fine grade for his economic performance. If he can’t even give himself a passing grade, why would the American people give him another four years?”

The fight over “incomplete” came after this weekend’s dust-up over Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gaffe on Sunday. O’Malley said the nation wasn’t better off than it was four years ago – a remark the governor and other top Democrats have been trying to clarify and walk back ever since. O’Malley has said he was the victim of a “word splice” and was trying to redirect the question. But his point – that the economy still hasn’t climbed all the way out of the hole left by the recession – still underscores the challenge Obama and the Democrats face. Brag too much, and they look out of touch. Brag too little, and they play into their opponents’ narrative.

Cutter, LaBolt and Messina at the Yahoo/ABC News event also kept up their attacks on Romney as someone who would cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. They continued to harshly attack Romney’s and Ryan’s honesty. Cutter suggested that their opponents are “flat-out lying” about Obama’s record, and LaBolt said that the Republican National Convention was based on “a set of lies” and that Romney and Ryan did not talk about the substance of their proposals.

In particular, Cutter ripped Ryan for continuing to pin the blame for the closing of a GM plant in Janesville, Wis., on the president when the decision to close it came before he took office. The Romney/Ryan campaign has, however, pointed to statements by candidate Obama that the plant could stay open if the government was a partner and helped it retool, and it said the larger point is that Obama has failed to keep his promises.

Ryan has continued to push the line of attack this week.

Cutter also said that unlike the Romney campaign, “we care about fact checks.”

But they defended an attack by Biden on Romney as the recipient of federal bailout that costs taxpayers – a claim that the Romney campaign quickly noted the Washington Post’s fact-checker rejected.

The Obama campaign was undeterred.

“He went to the federal government, the FDIC, for a bailout,” LaBolt said. When Tapper pushed on the question of taxpayers being on the hook – the FDIC is funded by insurance premiums on bank deposits – Cutter said that the FDIC is ultimately taxpayer guaranteed.

The root of the charge is a Rolling Stone article, which reported a Romney consulting firm managed to avoid paying back $10 million in loans it owed to a bank the FDIC had taken over.