Washington: Reaction to the monthly jobs numbers isn’t what it used to be.
The first unemployment report since President Barack Obama’s re-election barely got a mention from the White House and Republicans after Friday’s release. Gone was the frenzy of political posturing that followed every release throughout the presidential campaign.
Obama would try to cast each economic snapshot as a sign of slow but steady recovery, while Republican rival Mitt Romney bemoaned the unemployment rate as a sign that the country needed fresh economic leadership.
But there’s a new postelection, political reality in Washington: Obama is sticking around for four more years no matter what the unemployment rate is.
Economic drivers are also behind Washington’s muted response Friday. While economists project a continued drop in unemployment and an uptick in economic growth through next year, that could all be at risk if Obama and congressional Republicans can’t reach a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff”- a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect at the end of the year.
Perhaps with that in mind, the White House made no plans for the president to comment publicly on the news that the unemployment rate fell to a nearly four-year low of 7.7 percent in November. Instead, Obama spent the day in private meetings with his advisers - including some on the fiscal cliff. He left his administration’s response to top White House economist Alan Krueger.
“Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the US economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” Krueger said in a statement.
Vice President Joe Biden also chimed in briefly during an event Friday afternoon, saying: “I think we have turned the corner.”
Even before his re-election campaign kicked into high-gear, Obama made a point of addressing the jobless rate most months, regardless of whether it had climbed or dropped.
He’d speak from the White House, at small businesses in the Washington area or, often this year, at the start of campaign rallies in political swing states. He used his remarks to reassure the public and financial markets, or press Republicans to pass his proposals for jumpstarting the economy.
Congressional Republicans, and eventually Romney, would respond with vigour and cast the unemployment rate - which peaked at 10 percent during Obama’s first year in office - as a sign that the president was leading the economy down a dangerous road and needed to be replaced.
With that opportunity gone following the November 6 presidential election, and the unemployment picture improving, Republicans barely mentioned the jobless rate Friday. Instead, they used the monthly report to criticize Obama’s willingness to go over the fiscal cliff unless Republicans drop their opposition to higher tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners.
“The Democrats’ plan to slow-walk our economy to the edge of the fiscal cliff instead of engaging in serious talks is a threat to our economy,” House Speaker John Boehner said on Friday.
Fiscal cliff negotiations between the White House and Republicans are at an impasse. Despite Obama’s warning that he’s willing to go over the cliff unless Republicans come around on taxes, the GOP is holding firm in its opposition to higher tax rates on the wealthy.