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Obama urges Congress to act on boosting public sector jobs

Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama talks about the economy, Friday, June 8, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.


Updated 11:47 a.m. - President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass stalled elements of his jobs plan, warning that severe cuts to government spending, combined with reverberations from Europe's economic downturn, could spend the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

At a press conference on Friday at the White House, the president offered his own kind of warning against deep and immediate cuts to government spending, which he said would only stall the pace of the recovery, and in turn, exacerbate the government's ability to address debt and deficits.

"We've got a couple of sectors in our economy that is still weak. Overall, the private sector has been doing a good job of creating jobs," Obama said. "The big challenge we have in our economy right now is state and local government hiring has been going in the wrong direction."

Romney condemns Obama as 'out of touch'

Losses of government jobs have been a major factor in lackluster hiring reports in recent months; the most recent monthly jobs report, released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicated that the economy added only 69,000 jobs last month -- a number well below expectations.

President Barack Obama takes questions from reporters at a press conference in the White House briefing room.

A major factor in the slowed pace of hiring, reports had indicated, were layoffs associated with government spending.

The debate over jobs and the mouting national debt have framed the general election campaign between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor's team was quick to seize on the president's press conference, particularly his pronouncement that the private sector was doing "fine" versus public sector employees.

"The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months; over 800,000 just this year alone," Obama said. "The private sector is doing fine."

In response, Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney, said: "Today, President Obama inexplicably claimed that ‘the private sector is doing fine.’ But the 23 million Americans who are struggling for work are not ‘doing fine.’ Job creators and small businesses are not ‘doing fine.’ The middle class is not ‘doing fine.’ There is no denying that President Obama has been fundamentally hostile to job creators and his policies have prevented our economy from rebounding. America needs a president who understands the economy and knows how to get our country back on track."

Romney condemns Obama as 'out of touch'

Romney was set to speak late Friday morning in Iowa, where he was spending most of the day campaigning. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor scheduled an afternoon press conference on Capitol Hill to respond to the president, as well.

Obama avoided explicitly political barbs toward Romney or Republicans in Congress, but today's press conference came againist an explicitly political backdrop. The president's re-election team has been reeling from last week's jobs report, one of only a handful remaining federal reports that could sway voters' perceptions of the central issue of the campaign: the economy.

European nations' struggles to address a growing financial and monetary crisis have only slowed already-tight markets, and Obama was sure to note the impact on U.S. businesses.

President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the White House briefing room discussing jobs and the economy.

But the overarching purpose of the press conference was to urge action by Congress, which has struggled to reach agreement on only a few elements of the jobs plan.

"They left most of the jobs plan just sitting there," Obama said of congressional gridlock in advancing elements of his jobs plan, which he first unveiled last fall. "And in light of the headwinds we're facing right now, I urge them to reconsider. Becuase there's steps that we can take right now to get people back to work."

But given Republican control of the House and Democratic control of the Senate -- and the deep differences that separate them -- action on any part of the plan seems unlikely. Cantor outlined the summer agenda for the House a few weeks ago, which included more politically-themed votes to frame the election this fall than advancing the president's agenda.

Republicans have long complained that much of the president's recent policy actions have been motivated by election year politics; the GOP has extended that claim to recent leaks of national security victories, suggesting that the White House might have released details of top-secret operations in order to aid Obama's re-election.

The president called that suggestion "offensive," and suggested that his administration has a "zero tolerance" policy for leakers, who could face possible prosecution if they're discovered.

"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It's wrong," Obama said.

Obama declined to comment on an reported cyber-sabotage operation against the Iranian nuclear program, as well as a reported "kill list" containing the names of high-value targets that he allegedly supervises.

He also would neither confirm nor deny any existing investigation into leaks, saying that his administration always looks to identify the source of any intelligence leak.