President Obama and Republican House leaders traded fire Friday over whether the economy’s private sector is “doing fine,” as the president asserted, and whether new federal infusions of support to bolster public-sector employment make sense.

During a brief and hastily scheduled news conference at the White House, the president condemned Congress for refusing to pass “most” of his American Jobs Act introduced last fall — legislation he said could offset 450,000 layoffs of firefighters, teachers and police, and also put unemployed construction workers into jobs.

Enacting his “to-do-list” economic ideas this year could buy insurance against the threat of Europe’s fiscal troubles, which are impacting trade with the United States and could yet blow up into something worse, he added.

His comments drew immediate criticism from GOP leaders, but it was the remark about the private sector that elicited the strongest response, prompting the president to walk back his statement after the press conference.