President Obama acknowledged Friday that Americans are "frustrated" with his handling of the economy, but he rejected the idea that he's stood on the sidelines and he defended his efforts to get businesses hiring again.
With congressional midterm elections on the horizon, the president used his first full White House press conference since May to account to the public for why the economy has not accelerated out of the recession. Faced with persistently high unemployment, the president said progress has been "painfully slow," but he insisted his policies are working.
He denied waiting too long to propose his latest set of economic ideas -- a trio of spending and tax break proposals -- and argued that he's merely trying to build on the momentum from previous legislative packages.
"It worked," Obama said of the $814 billion stimulus and other measures. "It just hasn't done as much as we needed."
He said his team is "hardly Johnny-come-lately on this issue."
The president, who spoke and took questions for about 75 minutes, conceded that he and the Democratic Party are facing voter skepticism. Polls show confidence in Congress is low and suggest voters are thinking about handing leadership of both chambers back to the GOP and giving it a shot at fixing the economic mess.
"Because I am president, and the Democrats have control of the House and Senate, it's understandable that people are saying, 'What have you done?"' Obama said.
Trying to hold on to the majority, Obama has gone aggressively after Republican leaders in recent days, accusing them of wanting to drag the country back to the economic policies that set the stage for the recession. He took the podium Friday after hitting the road to build public support for his new economic proposals, which are designed to boost hiring and business investment, as well as confidence in Democratic leadership ahead of the midterm elections.
But with his proposals coming out so close to November, Republicans have accused Obama of playing politics.
"Half-hearted proposals and full-throated political attacks won't end the uncertainty that is keeping small businesses from creating jobs," House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a written statement Friday.
The president is proposing $180 billion worth of new spending and tax relief. That includes a $50 billion infrastructure investment, as well as a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit and a big tax break for businesses' capital investments.
Though his aides have studiously avoided using the word "stimulus" to describe his latest economic proposals, Obama embraced his role as stimulator-in-chief Friday. He said his policies are indeed designed to "stimulate" growth and hiring.
The president said November will be a choice between economic progress and the Republicans' regressive policies. He said "we're not there yet," but he urged the nation to give Democrats a chance to turn the economy around.
The president also urged the Senate to pass a package of aid for small businesses to extend tax credits and free up lending.
"The American people didn't send us here to think about our jobs. They sent us here to think about theirs," he said.