Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – President Barack Obama's administration and reelection team pushed back Monday on criticism of his dealings with Congress from two Republican presidential candidates.
A senior Obama administration official said the president's first priority is to work with members of both political parties in Congress to "create jobs, grow the economy and reduce the deficit in a balanced fashion."
"Where they are unwilling to act, he will use the power he has to help the economy," the official said.
The comments follow remarks from Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, who both accused the president of failing to work with Congress after a report in The New York Times that said the president is resigned to navigate around Congress in order to implement policies.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the suggestion is "outrageously unconstitutional."
"This is like a kindergarten plan," Gingrich said at a press availability Monday in Independence, Iowa. "How are you gonna deal with anything for 12 months? I mean, I looked at the TV this morning and thought these guys are just totally out of touch with reality."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the president is attempting to place blame on Congress to take the heat off his own record in the White House.
"I understand that their mantra these days is that there's a do-nothing Congress and this is all the Congress' fault," Romney said Sunday in Atlantic, Iowa. "I think he's forgetting that he had a Democratic Congress for the first two years that put in place his economic plans."
But a senior Obama campaign aide said the Republican candidates are "repackaging" the past policies that led to the economic crisis, a typical line of defense from Team Obama.
"The central question of the election will be who will restore economic security for the middle class," the aide said. "The president is fighting not only to create jobs but to build an economy where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, everyone from Wall Street to Main Street plays by the same set of rules, and there is abundant opportunity for the middle class to succeed."
The New York Times piece that started this back and forth characterized the president's 2012 posture toward Congress as a "go-it-alone approach." The report was partly based on a briefing by a White House deputy press secretary. In that briefing when a reporter asked if the president "is giving up on Congress," the White House official replied "not at all" and repeated several times that the president would work with Congress to pass his agenda. But the aide also said if Congress remains gridlocked, Obama will press his agenda through executive actions.