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Obama counters Republican critics on jobs agenda

By Ross Colvin

BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended his administration's economic recovery efforts on Thursday and accused Republicans of trying to block Democratic policies for political gain.

With public anxiety over the fragile economy threatening Obama's Democrats in November's congressional elections, he tried to turn the tables on Republican critics, accusing them of sitting on the sidelines last year when he was tackling the financial crisis.

Obama, speaking to factory workers in Buffalo, New York, made the case that his administration acted "boldly and quickly" to avert another Great Depression and move the country on the path to recovery.

Touting the latest government reports showing job growth for the fourth straight month, Obama argued that his efforts were working despite a 9.9 percent unemployment rate in April.

"Today, we are heading in the right direction," he said. "Despite all the naysayers who were predicting failure a year ago, our economy is growing again."

Later, at a Democratic fund-raising speech in Manhattan, Obama was blistering in his criticism of Republicans who are poised to pick up seats against Democratic majorities in November elections for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Obama said Republicans have "done their best to gum up the works" and said they generated much of the country's fiscal deficit that they now complain about.

"Their basic attitude has been, if Democrats lose, we win. After they drove the car in the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. No. They can't drive. We don't want to have to go back in the ditch," he said.

TOUGH TIMES

Obama, who has called job creation his top domestic priority, predicted the economy would be stronger next month than last and better next year than it is now, but acknowledged that times are still tough in many places.

Hard-hit western New York had a message for the president.

In a counterpoint to Obama's upbeat outlook, a billboard put up by a local businessman in economically hard-hit Buffalo carried the message: "Dear Mr. President, I need a freakin job. Period."

Republicans hoping to capitalize on the public's economic concerns to score electoral gains went on the attack against Obama's jobs agenda.

"Check your facts, Mr. President," U.S. House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner said in a statement. "More debt, higher taxes, and bigger government may be President Obama's idea of a 'jobs program,' but it's hurting our economy and making it harder to put people back to work."

Republicans say Obama's policies have failed to dent unemployment, a political sore spot for the president that has helped drag down his approval rating to 50 percent or lower.

Obama's $787 billion stimulus package approved last year by the Democratic-controlled Congress was largely rejected by Republicans. However, many independent economists have said the measures helped avert an even deeper recession.

Recalling the stimulus fight, Obama said he refused at the time to give in to "partisan posturing."

"I had one side of the aisle just sit on the sidelines as the crisis unfolded," Obama said. "And if we had taken that position, just thinking about what was good for my politics, millions more Americans would have lost their jobs and their businesses and their homes."

He urged Congress to act on measures his administration has proposed to help small businesses get loans and create jobs.

(Writing by Matt Spetalnick, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland; Editing by Xavier Briand and Sandra Maler)

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