The White House and President Obama's reelection campaign have long been treating Mitt Romney as the Republican frontrunner in 2012. And as the former Massachusetts governor was kicking off his campaign in New Hampshire, press secretary Jay Carney was ready with a response to his charge that the president had "failed America" and prolonged the recession.
His answer lasted well over three minutes (they'll have to shorten that for 30-second TV ads) and alternately pointed the finger at the Bush administration for driving the nation into recession and defended steps Obama took to reverse it. Here's Carney's full retort:
"There will be a time and a place for the president to engage in 2012 election politics, and my guess is that will be 2012.
"But I will say that when this president took office, we were in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The president inherited the largest deficit in the history of the country from an administration that had, when it came into power eight years previous, inherited budget surpluses from a Democratic president.
"The recession got worse before it got better when this president took office. We were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 600,000 to 700,000 a month. The circumstances were unprecedented, save the Great Depression as you well know, all of you covered it. There were moments in the first few months when this president took office -- long before anything he could do, any action he could take could take force -- where people were talking about unemployment rates of 25% or 30%; bank holidays or nationalization of banks. The situation was severe, the crisis was profound.
"The president took dramatic action, including unpopular decisions like bailing out the American auto industry, because he felt it was the right thing to do. He felt that the million jobs associated with the auto industry were worth saving if we could extract from those companies measures that would give them a better chance of succeeding. As Ron Bloom said yesterday from this podium, there is ample evidence to suggest that this decision was the right one.
"We have now experienced 14 straight months of private-sector job creation -- 2.1 million jobs created. Again, he's taking office with an inheritance of a Great Recession and [600,000] to 700,000 jobs lost per month. In the last 14 months, 2.1 million created. Seven quarters of economic growth.
"Having said that, we are a long way from home. As the president makes clear every time he talks about the economy, there is work to be done. Unemployment remains unacceptably high. That is why he took measures like he did just in the last six months: extending the middle-class tax cut; ensuring in the negotiations on that tax cut with the Republicans that we get a payroll tax-cut holiday for working Americans so that if you're making $50,000 a year right now, you're getting $1,000 extra because of that tax cut the president insisted on; the American Opportunity Tax Credit, to ensure that American children can go to college; the child-care tax-credit extension, to help families with children when parents are working.
"Going forward, he is, as you know, pushing free-trade agreements -- three of them, which will produce 70,000 jobs -- create or support 70,000 jobs in America. Pushing for an R&D tax credit for things like clean-energy investment, to make that permanent so that we can invest in industries that will create jobs and remain in America and will drive competition in the 21st century.
"There is no issue that matters more to this president than the economic health of this country and the job security of Americans and job creation in this country. So he's focused on this very directly."