Just hours after President Obama declared the private sector was "doing fine" -- a comment from which he later backed away -- one of the nation's major credit rating agencies affirmed neither the private nor public sector was flourishing.
Standard & Poor’s affirmed its long-term credit rating on the United States at AA+ and said its outlook remains negative.
The credit agency made the announcement after Obama's said Friday morning that the private sector is "doing fine" and that the GOP Congress is slowing down the economy. It was immediately pounced on by Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders, resulting in the president backpedaling by the afternoon.
Obama said late Friday it is "absolutely clear" that the U.S. economy is "not doing fine." He also said there has been some "good momentum" in the private sector but Congress needs to act to help boost jobs in the public sector.
In addition to his comments about the private sector during a morning White House press conference, he said the weaknesses in the U.S. economy have to do with state and local government.
"If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments,” the president said.
Romney, the GOP presidential candidate, responded within minutes from a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“He said the private sector is doing fine,” Romney said. “Is he really that out of touch? I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people. Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality as to believe in an America where 23 million Americans are out of work.”
Obama also said economic recipes being promoted by Republicans are "basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the economy, would result in further layoffs, would not provide relief in the housing market, and would result, I think most economists estimate, in lower growth and fewer jobs, not more."
The president’s first statements marked at least the second time he has turned the focus on Congress since a Labor Department report released a week ago showed the U.S. jobless rate increased in May from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, amid a string of recent downbeat economic reports.
“The president must be on another planet,” Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News. “You saw job figures last Friday, completely disconnected from reality.”
In the morning press conference, Obama also thanked Congress for passing the payroll tax cuts in his proposal but urged them to reconsider tax breaks to small businesses that hire and his plan to help homeowners take advantage or historically low mortgage rates.
“If you don’t pass (legislation) during an election year, you should explain to the American people,” Obama said.
He also said his administration is not responsible for recent national security leaks and has “zero tolerance” for such actions.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release national security information is offensive,” he said. “It’s wrong. … We don’t play with that.”
The president began his roughly 10-minute speech, followed by questions from reporters, by urging European leaders to handle the region’s debt crisis to avoid a recession that would further hurt the U.S., its largest trading partner.
Obama's tone was markedly different when it came to European leaders, whom he prodded to inject money into the banking system. He also said it is in "everybody's interest for Greece to remain in the eurozone," despite the division of public opinion inside the country where austerity measures have been imposed to deal with out-of-control deficits.
"The Greek people also need to recognize that their hardships will likely be worse if they choose to exit from the eurozone," Obama said. "The solutions to these problems are hard, but there are solutions," he said.
The president spoke as new signs that the European debt crisis was hurting the U.S. economy.
The president's attack on Republicans was part of his campaign playbook in an election in which the economy is the top issue. Romney is campaigning for the White House as better equipped to created jobs, and polls make the race a close one, with only about a dozen battleground states in dispute.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.