WASHINGTON — In a preview of campaign themes for fall's congressional elections, Vice President Joe Biden and House Republican leader John Boehner dueled Tuesday over how to fix the ailing economy, with Biden saying that progress has been steady even if slow, and Boehner sharply disagreeing.
"We've tried 19 months of government as community organizer. It hasn't worked," Boehner of Ohio told the City Club of Cleveland. He proposed extending all the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and urged the president to fire his top economic advisers.
Biden struck back hours later.
"Mr. Boehner is nostalgic for those good old days, but the American people are not," he said in a White House speech, charging that under President George W. Bush, "Mr. Boehner's party ran the economy literally into the ground."
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Statistics show that the economy is improving, but not robustly.
It's been growing for four quarters after a deep downturn that began in December 2007, though the pace of growth slowed this spring. The gross domestic product, the value of all the nation's goods and services produced in a year, rose 2.4 percent from April through June, after 3.7 percent growth in the first quarter.
Unemployment, which peaked at 10.1 percent last October, dropped to 9.5 percent in June and July. The economy, which was shedding jobs by the hundreds of thousands per month when President Obama took office in January 2009, has been adding them for months, though not vigorously.
Robert Bixby, the executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, a budget research group, said he "would not reach the conclusion" that Boehner did. "The economy is growing," Bixby said, "though it's still in a precarious position."
The centerpiece of Obama's recovery plan was last year's economic stimulus legislation, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now estimates cost $814 billion.
"The stimulus could have been targeted better, but it probably prevented things from getting worse," said Michael Walden, a professor of economics at North Carolina State University. "The economy is better today, but the pace of growth is extremely slow."
No government policy is likely to ignite the economy in these conditions, he said: "I don't see there's an easy button any politician can push."