Obama takes offensive in economic standoff

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Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 12:00 am

WASHINGTON —- President Barack Obama on Monday seized on the fifth anniversary of the 2008 financial collapse to warn that House Republicans would reverse the gains made and willfully cause “economic chaos” by the uncompromising stands they have staked out on looming budget deadlines.

“Budget battles and debates, those are as old as the Republic,” Obama said before a friendly audience assembled in a White House annex. But, he added, “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.”

A bloc of conservative House Republicans has said that unless Obama’s signature health-insurance law is delayed or repealed, it will not support financing for government operations in the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1 or an essential increase in the nation’s borrowing limit in mid-October. Failure to act on federal funding could provoke a government shutdown; not increasing the debt limit could leave the government unable to pay bills and creditors.

“The last time the same crew threatened this course of action back in 2011, even the mere suggestion of default slowed our economic growth,” Obama said, recalling that summer’s market-rattling showdown.

Obama’s remarks followed his administration’s release of a report chronicling the actions taken since 2008 to encourage job creation, save the auto industry, revive and regulate banking and expand education opportunities.

But he spoke at a time when the economy, as he acknowledged, is still struggling to create enough jobs and his agenda faces opposition from Republicans and from some Democrats increasingly emboldened against a second-term, lame-duck president.

Still, on the budget fight, most Democrats in Congress support the president, and with his comments he sought to rally them and to set up Republicans for blame should the fiscal fights end badly. He noted that in the past Republicans fought for more spending cuts to reduce deficits but that now, with annual deficits declining, they are making their fight over the health care law.

“The Affordable Care Act has been the law for 3½ years now,” Obama said. “It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. It was an issue in last year’s election, and the candidate who called for repeal lost. The Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times. They failed every time. Meanwhile the law has already helped millions of Americans.”

Obama was joined onstage by “small-business owners, construction workers, homeowners, consumers and tax cut recipients,” officials said.

The president has struggled for years to balance the desire to claim credit for a slowly improving economy against the need to make sure he acknowledges the pain many still feel.

At the event Monday, Obama recalled how close the country, and the world, came to another great depression after the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008. That bank’s bankruptcy caused the credit markets to seize up, the unemployment rate to sour and economic activity to plummet.

While the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.3 percent — down from a high of 10.1 percent in late 2009 — millions of Americans are still struggling to find a job, and millions more are working for low wage or part-time jobs and having trouble making ends meet.

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