Despite 9.6% Unemployment Rate, White House Says Economy Stronger Today by ‘Virtually Any Measure’ Than Two Years Ago

By Fred Lucas | September 7, 2010 | 3:45 PM EDT

President Barack Obama discusses the rising unemployment rate at the White House on Friday, Sept. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington ( – Despite the rise in unemployment to 9.6 percent, the U.S. economy is doing better and President Barack Obama is introducing further measures for long-term growth, said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday.

“By virtually any measure, our economy is in a better place than it was two years ago,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Gibbs also briefly discussed Obama’s six-year plan, announced on Monday, to spend $50 billion to upgrade America’s highways, rail lines and airport runways.

In a speech in Milwaukee, Wisc., on Monday, Obama proposed the $50-billion infrastructure improvement program. The president also announced plans for tax breaks to allow businesses to write off 100 percent of new capital investments through 2011, according to the Associated Press. White House officials told the AP that the overall plan would save businesses $200 million over two years.

On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to speak in Cleveland, Ohio, to announce further plans to spur economic growth and apparently create jobs. Cleveland was chosen because it is where House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered his own economic address two weeks ago, a White House spokesman said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefs reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Two Septembers ago, in 2008, the economy hit the skids. Unemployment, which is generally considered a measure of economic performance, has increased over the last two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

A press release from the BLS on Sept. 5, 2008 said unemployment had reached 6.1 percent for August 2008. That was up from 5.7 percent the previous month.

The BLS announced last Friday, Sept. 3, 2010, that unemployment had reached 9.6 percent, up from 9.5 percent in July.

Borrowing more money is not the solution to America’s economic problems, said Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).

“This is hardly the first time Democrats have promised to create jobs with ‘shovel ready’ stimulus spending,” Price said in a statement on Monday. “President Obama has spent the last 600 days trying to borrow, tax, and spend away this recession. Democrats in Congress even cancelled the budget to hide the true cost of their recklessness.”

“And what do we have to show for it?” said Price. “More unemployment and debt. Infrastructure is important, but borrowing another $50 billion is clearly not the answer we need.”

On Tuesday, Gibbs also said that Obama disagreed with his former budget director, Peter Orszag, whose New York Times op-ed on Sept. 6 called for temporarily extending the Bush tax cuts for another two years.

Obama wants to permanently extend the cuts for those households earning less than $250,000. But he wants to let the tax cuts expire (in effect, raise taxes) on households earning more than $250,000 or individuals earning more than $200,000.

Republicans meanwhile want to extend the tax cuts for all payers, and some Democrats in Congress argue that a recession is no time to hike taxes on any wage-earners.

Orszag argued that Obama and the Republicans are wrong.

“The nation faces a nasty dual deficit problem: a painful jobs deficit in the near term and an unsustainable budget deficit over the medium and long term,” wrote Orszag. “This month, the Senate will be debating an issue with significant implications for both -- what to do about the Bush-era tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of the year. In the face of the dueling deficits, the best approach is a compromise: extend the tax cuts for two years and then end them altogether. Ideally, only the middle-class tax cuts would be continued for now. Getting a deal in Congress, though, may require keeping the high-income tax cuts, too. And that would still be worth it.”