WASHINGTON – President Obama insisted Friday that the U.S. economy is digging itself out of the deepest recession in decades but conceded that “progress has been painfully slow” and many voters in November’s elections may blame him.

Facing a rising jobless rate, Obama told a White House news conference: “For all the progress we’ve made, we’re not there yet. And that means people are frustrated and why people are angry.”

“Because I am president, and the Democrats have control of the House and Senate, it’s understandable that people are saying, ‘What have you done?’ “

The president, who also is the leader of the Democratic Party, spent much of his appearance before cameras on the defensive, underscoring his frustration with being unable to convince the public that his economic fixes are working.

At his first formal session with reporters since May, one that lasted nearly an hour and 20 minutes, Obama repeated his contention that Republican obstructionism is hampering his ability to steer the nation into a stronger recovery. He renewed his insistence that Senate Republicans drop their stalling of a bill before the Senate to help small businesses.

And he said yet again that Bush-era tax cuts should be extended for individuals earning less than $200,000 a year and joint filers earning less than $250,000. All the Bush tax cuts are to expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts.

Obama said Congress shouldn’t delay extending the middle-class tax cuts any longer.

“Why hold it up? Why hold the middle class hostage?” he said.

Some prominent Democrats recently have suggested temporarily extending all of the expiring cuts, for perhaps a year or two, as a compromise. But so far Obama has dug in and rejected all talk of such a deal.

He said extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans “is a bad idea.”

Obama repeatedly sought to justify the high-dollar actions his administration has taken to boost a sputtering recovery. And he blamed Republicans for holding back future progress by uniformly opposing other proposals on the table.

His previous revival efforts have worked, Obama said, but “haven’t done as much as we needed to do.” With public opinion sour on the first economic stimulus plan, Obama initially refused to call the three-pronged economic plan he laid out this week a “stimulus” plan but then said: “There’s no doubt that everything we’ve been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth and jobs in the entire economy.”

Much of the summer has been marked by one discouraging economic report after another.

Yet, reports so far this month — from manufacturing to new jobless claims to home sales to business activity — have topped most forecasts. That has brightened the outlook somewhat as worries of a “double-dip” recession fade.

Still, there is little that Obama can do that is likely to turn the economy around in the short time before Election Day on Nov. 2.

Facing a possible GOP blowout in November, many Democrats who supported Obama earlier this year on his landmark health care overhaul bill have sought to distance themselves from the administration.

Asked why this was so, Obama cited a “political season” in which he said every candidate has “their own district, their own makeup, their own plan, their own message.”

With the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, Obama said that Democratic and Republican candidates alike “are going to make the best argument they can right now.”

“That’s how political races work,” he said.

Obama over the past week has outlined a trio of job-creation ideas designed to prod the economy: $50 billion for roads, rail lines and other infrastructure spending, a permanent research and development credit and upfront 100 percent business write-offs through 2012.

With polls suggesting that voters have decided — rightly or wrongly — that his $814 billion stimulus plan last year was less than a success, the White House has been steering clear of portraying these new items as another stimulus.

Yet when he was asked directly whether the unpopularity of the first stimulus was the reason White House officials weren’t using that word this time, Obama said:

“I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and jobs. There’s no doubt that everything we’ve been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth and jobs in the entire economy.” He said he hoped Republicans had the same goal.

Asked how he had changed Washington, Obama said the dreadful economy made it hard to demonstrate real progress.

“I think that’s fair. I’m as frustrated as anybody by it,” Obama said.

Obama also:

Said he was naming White House economist Austan D. Goolsbee to succeed Christina Romer as chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Praised consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor and head of a panel investigating the financial meltdown, but said he’s not ready to make an announcement of whether she is his choice to head a new financial consumer protection bureau.