(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama was criticized for delivering a highly partisan Monday speech on the economy while the nation was gripped by a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., that left 12 dead. His speech had two main points that appear contradictory: (1) The economy is doing well. And, (2) It is the Republican's fault that the economy is not doing well.
The speech marking the five year anniversary of the beginning of the financial crisis was delayed until after noon due to the Navy Yard shooting. The Navy Yard and surrounding areas were still under investigation by law enforcement authorities as the speech began, and there were reports at the time that there may have been an accomplice.
He began by praising the courage of the first responders and sending his thoughts and prayers to those "who've been touched by this tragedy."
"We thank them for their service," Obama continued. "We stand with the families of those who've been harmed. They're going to need our love and support. And as we learn more about the courageous Americans who died today – their lives, their families, their patriotism – we will honor their service to the nation they helped to make great."
After his words of comfort, Obama spoke about Syria and the economy and criticized Republicans for not going along with his economic agenda.
Obama touted his record and noted how well the economy is doing. He mentioned health care reform, banking reforms, investments in non-oil energy technology, and higher taxes on the wealthy.
As a result of those accomplishments, Obama argued, the economy has added 7.5 million new jobs over the last 3.5 years, the unemployment rate is lower and the cost of health care is rising at a slower rate. "Our housing market is healing. Our financial system is safer. We sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. We generate more renewable energy than ever before. We produce more natural gas than anybody."
"But that's not the end of the story," Obama remarked as he transitioned to how poor the economy is doing.
The economy needs to grow faster, he argued, to create more and better jobs, especially for those who are poor or out of work.
"The problem is at the moment," he said, "Republicans in Congress don't seem to be focused on how to grow the economy and build the middle class."
Republicans want to cut vital programs, he argued to lower budget deficits. But, the federal governments deficits are dropping at the highest rate in 50 years, he touted.
"By the end of this year, we will have cut our deficits by more than half since I took office," Obama claimed, though White House documents suggest otherwise.
According to WhiteHouse.gov, in 2009, the first year of the Obama presidency, the deficit was $1.41 trillion (rounded to the nearest $10 billion). The deficit has dropped steadily in each year since and is estimated to be $970 billion for 2013. In 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush presidency, the deficit was $460 billion.
Republicans are promising "economic chaos," Obama added, by making budgetary demands in exchange for raising the nation's debt ceiling. In particular, he criticized the view of some Republicans that a repeal or delay of the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," should be tied to raising the debt limit.
Obamacare "was an issue in last year's election and the candidate who called for repeal lost," he said.
The day of a national tragedy was the wrong time to deliver a highly partisan speech, some critics have charged.
"At one point, he was speaking of the Republicans, [Obama] said, 'and some of them are decent,' which is quite a remarkable thing for a president to say if he expects any cooperation," Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said Monday on Fox News' "Special Report." "And to do this within minutes of 13 naval employees, brave Americans, dead, I though was in extremely bad taste. He could've waited until tomorrow."
When asked why the speech was not delayed in light of the tragedy, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said that option was never considered.
NPR correspondent Mara Liasson added that the White House must be rethinking its decision to go ahead with the speech for two reasons. The tone was "a little awkward" given the tragedy, and few were listening to the speech with most of the news focused on the events at the Navy Yard.