WASHINGTON - President Obama hosted a jobs summit yesterday, soliciting ideas from business and labor leaders on how to reverse an economic downturn that has sent the unemployment rate to its worst level in a generation.
"This has been a tough year, with a lot of uncertainty," Mr. Obama said as he wrapped up the half-day brainstorming session with more than 100 CEOs, academics, business and union leaders, and local officials.
"There's no question that it's difficult out there right now," he said.
The President said there were some ideas that could be put to work almost immediately and other ideas that will become part of legislation for Congress to consider.
He listed "moving forward on an aggressive agenda for energy efficiency and weatherization" as a prime candidate for quick action.
With unemployment levels above 10 percent, Mr. Obama said "We cannot hang back and hope for the best."
But, mindful of growing anxiety about federal deficits, he tempered his upbeat talk with an acknowledgment that government resources could only go so far and that it is primarily up to the private sector to create large numbers of new jobs.
He said while he's "open to every demonstrably good idea ... we also though have to face the fact that our resources are limited."
Mr. Obama spoke a day before the Labor Department was to report unemployment figures for November.
The October jobless level soared into double digits to 10.2 percent and forecasters don't expect the November figures to be any better. They could even be worse.
Not to be outflanked, the Republicans held a dueling jobs conference with their own economic experts.
Republicans blamed the grim jobs picture on Mr. Obama's policies.
They contend the administration's $787 billion stimulus package has failed and warn that passage of the health care overhaul will undermine conditions for economic progress.
What's more, they say they were snubbed.
Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio), the House Republican minority leader, said he didn't get an invitation to the Obama summit.
"The biggest problem that we heard from our economists with regard to why employers aren't hiring is all the job-killing policies that are being offered by this administration and this Congress and creating an awful lot of uncertainty for American employers," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, told senators at a hearing on his confirmation for a second term, "Jobs are the issue right now."
"It really is the biggest challenge, the most difficult problem that we face right now," Mr. Bernanke said.
In the House yesterday, where lawmakers are particularly sensitive to the employment issue since they all face re-election next year, Democratic leaders were finishing work on a jobs bill for debate this month.
It would extend expiring federal unemployment benefits for people who have been out of jobs for long periods and provide up to $70 billion for roads and infrastructure projects and for aid to small business.