UPDATED 1:56 p.m. ET
(CBS News) President Obama urged Congress to take steps to boost the economy and called on Republican lawmakers to explain why they are not taking action if they don't, while rival Mitt Romney pounced on the president's assessment that the private sector is "doing fine."
"Right now people in this town should be focused on doing everything we can to keep our recovery going and keeping our country strong," Mr. Obama said one week after the Labor Department said the unemployment rate rose a tick in May to 8.2 percent. That is the first upward tick since June 2011.
The U.S. unemployment rate has been over 8 percent since February 2009, the longest stretch since government records began in 1948, though it has been on a downward trend since it peaked at 10.0 percent in October 2009.
The U.S. economy is facing additional headwinds from Europe which is facing the prospect of a double-dip recession as the financial crisis continues there.
Mr. Obama said the United States should learn from the experiences of Europe, where many countries are in a downward spiral because they are cutting spending too quickly and interest rates are on the rise as investors see that it will be harder for countries to pay down their debts.
"I think that what we want both for ourselves, but what we've advised in Europe as well, is a strategy that says, 'Let's do everything we can to grow now even as we lock in a long-term plan to stabilize our debt and our deficits and start bringing them down in a -- in a steady, sensible way,' " he said.
The president blamed Republicans for blocking his so-called "To Do" list of items that lawmakers can do to boost economic growth in the near term, including proposals to give tax breaks to small businesses that boost hiring and a proposal to make it easier for homeowners who are current on their mortgage to refinance at lower interest rates.
"Now if Congress decides despite all that they aren't going to do anything about this simply because it is an election year, then they should explain to the American people why," Mr. Obama told reporters.
The comments continue his strategy of hitting Congress for obstructionism, echoing Harry Truman's famous 1948 victory after blaming a Republican Congress for doing nothing.
Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, used the press conference to hit the president for being out of touch with most Americans.
Mr Obama "said 'the private sector is doing fine.' 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," Romney said, returning fire with a frequent attack the Obama campaign makes against him.
"For the president of the United States to stand up and say 'the private sector is doing fine' is going to go down in history. It's extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president whose out of touch and we're going to take back this country and get America working again," Romney said in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
In its May employment report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures U.S. job growth, said the economy added 82,000 private sector jobs and lost 13,000 public sector jobs for net job creation of just 69,000 new jobs. Economists say the economy needs to add somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs per month to keep up with population growth. In addition to the lackluster May report, the department revised its estimate for job growth in March and April downward, leaving the average job growth for those three months at just 96,000.
Mr. Obama spoke in overtly political terms.
"The recipes that (Republicans) are promoting are basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the economy. Would result in furthers 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," Mr. Obama said.
House Speaker John Boehner also took issue with the president's assessment that the private sector job growth is fine.
"Well, Mr. President, I used to run a small business. And, Mr. President, take it from me, the private sector is not doing well," he said.>
The president noted that the weakest job growth in the economy is in construction and state and local government hiring.
"And so 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 and how do we help the construction industry," he said.
Asked about that comment directly, Boehner said he does not think weak public sector hiring is a drag on the economy.
New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie also took issue with Mr. Obama's call for more hiring of government workers.
"The president fundamentally believes that the way to support our economy is to take more in taxes from all of you and spend it on more public workers who then will pay a fraction of that money back in taxes," Christie said.
"If anybody ran a business like that they would be out of business quickly and Barack Obama's leadership is driving this business, the United States of America, toward a fiscal cliff. We'd better stand together in the next five months and stop him from doing it," Christie said.
Asked about the Republican criticism of the president's comments, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president has always been clear that more needs to be done to recover from the recession.
"He's got a plan on the table that would create over a million jobs right now and addresses specific weaknesses in last month's jobs report," LaBolt said.
"You saw the weaknesses among public sector workers and construction workers. He's got a plan on the table that would keep teachers in classrooms, cops on the street, and put construction workers back to work through the infrastructure plan," he added.
Additional reporting by Jill Jackson, Matt Shelley and Rebecca Kaplan.
Watch the full statement here: