Austin – President Obama has made one thing clear while traveling from the Rocky Mountains to Texas this week: The economy is the best it has been in years and is only getting better.
Obama has seized on five months of job growth to describe the economy in optimistic terms, cutting back on some of his usual caveats and declaring that his administration’s policies helped build a foundation for the economy to do well.
“There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off now than we were when I took office,” Obama said at a Dallas fundraiser Wednesday night. “We are indisputably better than when I was elected — in part because we took some really tough decisions early.”
Obama used his speeches this week to rattle off a list of reforms that he said have helped turn the economy around and created jobs, from an increase in renewable energy to a minimum wage hike for federal contractors. He also highlighted optimistic pieces of economic news, including a drop in the jobless rate to 6.1 percent.
Obama has meshed his economic message with sharp criticism of Congress, telling audiences that circumventing the body through executive actions has helped the economy and that he must continue to do so in order for progress to continue.
Here in Austin on Thursday, Obama — flanked by massive U.S. and Texas flags — ticked off the things he has done without congressional approval that he said will fill people’s wallets and vowed to continue to work around lawmakers if necessary. “Whenever and wherever I have the power, the legal authority, to help families like yours, even if Congress is not doing anything, I will take that opportunity,” he said. “I will try to make things happen.”
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Obama is trying to “cut through the cynicism” in Washington and has hit the road to talk to people outside politics who are most affected by the economy.
“The point he’s making is if you look at what’s happening in Washington, you think everything is a mess,” Pfeiffer said. “But if you actually look at what’s happening in the country, especially the economy, we’ve made real progress, and there are opportunities to continue growing and succeeding.”
Obama has also infused his speeches this week with a middle-class populism bearing echoes of his reelection campaign against GOP candidate Mitt Romney. The president cast Republicans as being on the side of the wealthy and urged crowds to engage in what he called “economic patriotism.”
“Let’s rally around a patriotism that says, don’t give tax loopholes to corporations shifting jobs overseas, let’s put people back to work here rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our airports, making sure the next generation of manufacturing is made in America. That’s patriotism. That’s patriotism,” he said in Denver. “Don’t stack the deck in favor of those who’ve already succeeded.”
While Obama gave his administration plenty of credit for the turnaround, he also extolled middle-class Americans for bolstering the economy by scrimping, saving and pounding the pavement for jobs.
Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Analytics, said the increase in jobs numbers is tangible to people and allows Obama to talk about the economy with more confidence. “I think this shift in tone reflects that pickup in the job market,” Zandi said. “The pace of improvement feels like it’s ticked up, especially in the job market, which I think is most important to most people.”
But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum, said it is too soon for Obama to be celebrating the success of the economy. “I don’t think the facts on the ground merit anybody spiking a football and celebrating,” he said.
Holtz-Eakin said people are not seeing an increase in their wages, an issue that Obama conceded needed to be fixed.
Mark Mellman, a Democratic consultant, said that when numbers are up, presidents and candidates must do what they can to convey that to Americans.
“They’re moving in a good direction, and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The fact that we’re moving in a positive direction is frankly more important than what the levels are.”
Pfeiffer said the administration is aware that the economy isn’t in the clear just yet.
“You feel a little momentum in the economy,” he said, “but clearly we have a lot more to do.”