LOUISVILLE — Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth lashed out at President Barack Obama's economic team Thursday, saying they show more concern for Wall Street than average Americans in a blunt election-year assessment from an Obama loyalist frustrated by a tepid economic recovery.
What started out as a bashing of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell by union activists, who pressed for more public transportation projects, shifted gears briefly when Yarmuth took aim at Obama's inner circle of economic aides.
"I'm not real happy with our economic team in the White House," Yarmuth said. "They think it's more important that Goldman Sachs make money than that you make money. And that's where we've got to change the attitude of this country."
Afterward, Yarmuth lamented "a sense of floundering and indecisiveness" by Obama's administration in trying to revitalize the economy from a deep recession causing stubbornly high unemployment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"I think we have an opportunity to really regain the confidence of the American people if we show here's where we're going to go and why," Yarmuth said in an interview. "I don't think the administration's done that yet."
In a fresh sign of the weak job market, the federal government said Thursday that first-time claims for jobless benefits edged up by 2,000, to a seasonally adjusted 484,000, the highest total since February.
Yarmuth said Obama is surrounded by economic advisers from Wall Street and academia, and the president's inner circle lacks someone with practical experience from running a small business.
"When Tim Geithner and Larry Summers talk about the economy, it's like it doesn't involve real people," he said of the treasury secretary and director of the White House National Economic Council, respectively.
Yarmuth didn't spare congressional Republicans from harsh criticism, accusing them of "saying no to everything" to prevent Obama and majority Democrats from getting any credit for an economic turnaround. "They would rather inflict more pain on the American people and the American economy to win a political battle than they would to see this country move forward," Yarmuth said.
He said the best short-term prescription for job growth is for Congress to pass a broader federal transportation initiative to build and repair more bridges, roads and other public works projects.
"That's the fastest way we can put people to work," he said.
That message was warmly embraced by a crowd of union workers who gathered under an aging overpass in Louisville to press for more federally backed construction projects.
Union activists at the rally described McConnell as a key obstructionist blocking federal spending that they said is needed to put more people to work building and repairing roads, bridges, schools, dams and water treatment plants.
"Senator McConnell, I hope you're listening today," Regina Thompson, an unemployed construction worker, told the crowd. "But if you're not, we'll make sure you hear us.
"It's time to quit standing in the way of creating jobs and it's time to build Kentucky."
Thompson, 50, said she has worked only five weeks in the past six months and has had to borrow money from her grown children to put food on the table.
"I didn't get into construction to have to lean on my kids," she said, her voice choking with emotion. "It doesn't have to be this way. We're ready to work."
McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said Thursday that the Kentucky senator has been a longtime advocate for improving Kentucky's infrastructure and looks forward to working on federal highway legislation next year.
McConnell took a shot this week at the massive economic stimulus pushed by Obama last year, saying it was supposed to be "timely, targeted and temporary."
"Yet here we are, a year and a half later into the Democrat economy, and some in Washington are already coming back for tens of billions more," the senator said. "It's time to change course, it's time to do something that will actually create lasting private sector jobs and get us moving in the right direction."