President Obama said Friday that "putting the economy into overdrive" is a top priority, even as a new poll showed the public giving his economic policies poor marks so far.
The Associated Press-GfK poll underscored the selling job that confronts the president as he prepares to seek a second term: People like Obama personally, but just 35 percent say the economy's gotten better during his tenure.
Appearing in Schenectady, N.Y., on Friday, Obama announced that he was naming GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt as the head of a Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, his latest move to court a business community that he's clashed with amid continued high unemployment. Addressing workers at a General Electric plant, Obama recommitted himself to spending the next two years trying to speed up the economic recovery. His success or failure there is likely to be the central issue of the coming 2012 presidential campaign.
"Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that businesses can take root, and folks can find good jobs," the president said.
"We're going to build stuff, and invent stuff," said Obama, emphasizing the need to boost American exports to countries around the world, an issue that was a focus during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the White House this week.
"That's where the customers are. It's that simple," Obama said.
His choice of Immelt to head the competitiveness panel won applause from the Chamber of Commerce, which called it a "promising step" toward creating jobs and enhancing U.S. competitiveness. But the Alliance for American Manufacturing condemned the choice, dismissing Immelt as "an outsourcing CEO" whose appointment would "alienate working class voters." That underscored a fine line for Obama in pushing for growth into the global marketplace while still looking out for the interests of U.S. workers.
The competitiveness panel replaces Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which had been chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Obama announced late Thursday that Volcker, as expected, was ending his tenure.
The change in the advisory board signals Obama's intention to shift from policies that were designed to stabilize the economy after the 2008 financial meltdown, to a renewed focus on increasing employment. The White House says the board's mission will be to help generate ideas from the private sector to speed up economic growth and promote American competitiveness.
The shift in focus is aimed at winning over a public that remains skeptical of the administration's economic policies. Over half of those surveyed in the AP-GfK poll disapprove of how Obama has handled the economy, and 75 percent rate the economy as poor. However, three-quarters do say it's unrealistic to expect noticeable improvements after two years; they say it will take longer.
Mindful of those sentiments Obama told listeners Friday that "it's a great thing that the economy's growing -- but it's not growing fast enough."
For Obama, the visit to General Electric Co. was also an opportunity to claim credit for tax, trade and energy policies pursued by his administration as the nation attempts to recover from the worst recession since the 1930s. It's the first of many treks during the second half of his term that the president is expected to take to put a more hopeful countenance on the economy amid stubbornly high unemployment.
The GE plant is benefiting from a power turbine contract with India announced during Obama's Southeast Asia trip in November. Immelt also has been an advocate of alternative forms of energy, and the GE facility, the company's largest energy plant, is the future site of GE's advanced battery manufacturing program. New battery technology has become something of an Obama pet project as a symbol of innovation, clean energy and job creation.
Immelt's appointment adds another corporate insider to the White House orbit, underscoring the administration's efforts to build stronger ties to the business community. Earlier this month, Obama named former Commerce secretary and JPMorgan Chase executive William Daley as chief of staff.