Trump and Obama spar over economy as midterm polls near

WASHINGTON • In his fiery speeches and Twitter blitzes, President Donald Trump has forcefully claimed ownership of the United States economy's vigorous health while denigrating the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama, who was in office during most of the past decade's expansion.

Following last Friday's blockbuster August jobs report, and with nail-biting midterm elections less than 60 days away, the 44th and 45th presidents crossed swords, with Mr Trump continuing to counterpunch through the weekend and into Monday morning.

"The Economy is sooo good, perhaps the best in our country's history," Mr Trump tweeted on Monday, adding moments later that he had taken gross domestic product (GDP) growth over 4.2 per cent "and we will do much better than this".

Mr Trump also tweeted - falsely - that GDP growth had surpassed the unemployment rate "for the first time in over 100 years".

Official data shows that this happened frequently in the post-World War II era, according to Agence France-Presse fact-checking.

The White House also acknowledged on Monday that the tweet was incorrect.

Last Friday, Mr Obama called for an end to the crowing from the White House. "I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016," he said in an address in Illinois.

In a detailed presentation on Monday, top White House economist Kevin Hassett told reporters that the world's largest economy turned a corner in the Trump era, pointing to sharp gains in business investment, business sentiment and corporate registrations. "The notion that what we're seeing right now is just a continuation of trends is not super defensible," he said.

It has been rare for an economic expansion to stretch between presidencies of opposite parties, which usually try to shift blame for a slowdown. Recessions bookended the start and end of Mr George W. Bush's presidency and marked the end of Mr George H.W. Bush's.

 
 
 

They also occurred at the end of Mr Jimmy Carter's and at the start of Mr Ronald Reagan's - leaving Mr Trump and Mr Obama in an unusual tug of war for credit.

But economists say the truth is closer to splitting the baby: Neither president is solely responsible and yet both deserve some of the credit for an economic recovery that without a doubt began under Mr Obama.

"Given the two presidents involved, pyrotechnics and bombast were going to happen whether there was a recovery or not," said Mr Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and adviser to former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2018, with the headline 'Trump and Obama spar over economy as midterm polls near'. Print Edition | Subscribe