WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s high-profile jobs council went out of business Thursday, despite reports that the economy shrank at the end of last year and the unemployment rate remains stuck at 7.8 percent, exactly the same as it was four years ago when the president first took office.
The White House called the end of the council routine, saying it was meant to last only two years and that it had had notable success. Republicans called it a waste of time, saying it hadn’t even met for more than a year.
Obama created the committee of business leaders from around the country, tasked with coming up with ideas to create jobs, with great fanfare in 2011, heralding it in his State of the Union address at a time when unemployment was at 9.1 percent and the country was struggling to find its footing after the Great Recession. It was chaired by GE Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt.
The council met only four times, a record that drew barbs from Republicans.
“One thing the president could have done instead of wasting so much time blaming others would have been to convene the jobs council he created amidst so much fanfare. He hasn’t done that for more than a year,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday.
“If the White House spent nearly as much time trying to actually fix the economy as it did claiming it was fixed – and then finding excuses and scapegoats when its premature pronouncements turned out to be false – I suspect the economy would actually be doing better than it is today,” McConnell said. “But the president seems not to have learned that lesson, because just yesterday he tried to pin the latest negative economic news on congressional Republicans again.”
That latest economic news was the report that the economy shrank at an annualized rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Alan Krueger, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the contraction in the gross domestic product probably was due to Hurricane Sandy and the uncertainty surrounding “fiscal cliff” issues. It was the first time the GDP had weakened since the second quarter of 2009.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed questions about why the jobs panel hadn’t met for more than a year. “You are more concerned with meetings than with progress,” he said Thursday.
Carney said the group didn’t need formal meetings in order to discuss ideas or have an impact. He said Obama had implemented many of the council’s suggestions, including a “new initiative to focus on retrofitting government and commercial buildings for energy efficiency” and an “idea to create new construction jobs.”
He also said the White House would continue to work closely with the business community to “advance specific policy priorities promoted by the jobs council.”
He shot back at Republican criticisms of the White House’s jobs policies, charging that it was Republicans who’d created the Great Recession and then helped block Obama’s 2011 proposal for a second stimulus package, the American Jobs Act.
“It’s a little ironic to hear from those who, with great fervor, embraced the policies that helped create the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, who resisted the policies that have helped lead us out of that crisis and into a period of growth and job creation, be critical on this,” he said. “There is no question that more people would be employed had the Republicans not refused to pass the American Jobs Act.”
Email: EKantrowitz@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @emkantro