The Obama administration sent a clear message on Friday: if anyone is to blame for the US economy slowdown, it is Congress.
Both Barack Obama and Labor Secretary Tom Perez pointed to congressional inaction on issues like the budget and transportation and infrastructure as reasons why the US economy was not growing at a faster pace.
Their statements were part of a reaction to the worse-than-expected jobs report released on Friday morning. The report showed that the US economy added fewer jobs in September than expected, casting doubts over whether the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates before the year’s end.
The US economy has seen “67 straight months of job creation, 13.2 million new jobs in all and an unemployment rate that has fallen from a high of 10% down to 5.1%”, Obama said.
“These long-term trends are obviously good news particularly for every American waking up each morning and heading to a new job,” the president added. “But we would be doing even better if we didn’t have to keep on dealing with the unnecessary crises in Congress every few months.
“This is especially important right now because although the American economy has been chugging along at a steady pace, much of the global economy has softened.”
Obama said part of the reason the US job growth has slowed is because there is a global slowdown, which has affected US exports and made the US economy skittish. As such, the US does not need another manufactured crisis such as attempting to avoid a government shutdown in December.
“I will not sign another short-sighted spending bill like the one Congress sent me this week. We purchased ourselves 10 additional weeks, we need to use them effectively,” Obama said, referring to the short-term extension passed by Congress.
“Congress has to do its job. We can’t flirt with another shutdown. It should pass a serious budget.”
John Boehner, the outgoing speaker of the House, also believes the US economy can do better. However, he blamed the slowed economic growth on the White House.
“Too many middle-class families are still struggling in this economy, and we can do a lot better,” Boehner said. “There is no excuse for the president to continue pushing an agenda that will hurt hardworking families and stifle economic growth.”
Perez admitted that September’s job growth “didn’t meet our high expectations” and that the US could do better, but said it was up to Congress to fix. The Obama administration has a laundry list of ways that the Congress can improve the US economic outlook, he said, including acting immediately to pass a transportation infrastructure bill and providing relief from “the sequestration straightjacket”.
“Those are the things that create jobs. I am confident that there is bipartisan support, there is majority support in both houses of Congress to do all of those things and they need to act immediately,” Perez told the Guardian.
“I am hopeful. Speaker [John] Boehner as he prepares to depart indicated that he wants to leave a clean barn for his successor and a clean barn would mean passing all these initiatives because that’s how you create jobs.”
Perez also called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and to pass a national paid leave law, which he says would improve labor participation. In September, US labor participation dropped to 62.4% – the lowest mark since October 1977.
Despite its faults, the US economy “continues to be envy of the world,” Perez said. When asked what makes US economy so appealing, Perez said that in other countries people do not have money in their pockets to spend.
“We have the most productive workforce in the world,” he said. “We have a legal system that is fair and impartial. We have incredible advantages now in energy as we become closer and closer to energy independence. It is a lot cheaper to make things here.
“The gallon [of] gas is a boon for most consumers – including myself. Every time I go to a gas pump, I am pretty pumped up because it’s so cheap. But because we are an oil and gas producer, we have seen a job loss of roughly 100,000 in that sector.”
This article was written by Jana Kasperkevic in New York, for theguardian.com on Saturday 3rd October 2015 14.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010