The Washington Post

Obama, Romney spar over what the July jobs report means for both campaigns

The jobs figures released Friday present a complicated snapshot of a slow economic recovery: Hiring is up — but so is the unemployment rate.

Within an hour of the data’s release, both presidential campaigns had plucked out the piece of the news most favorable to them, and crafted simple, and similar, messages based on the complex report. Basically, they said this: “See? We were right.”

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney focused on the most worrisome part of that picture: an uptick in the unemployment rate from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent — the highest jobless rate in five months.

“These jobs numbers are not just statistics; they’re real people,” Romney said at a morning event at a warehouse of McCandless Trucking just north of Las Vegas. He called the data “another hammer blow to the struggling middle class families of America.”

At the White House, Obama’s staff highlighted the good news: U.S. employers created 163,000 jobs in July. That was an improvement after months of sluggish growth. The White House touted the fact that that the economy has added private sector jobs for 29 straight months, for a total of 4.5 million new positions.

“Those are our neighbors and family members finding work, and the security that comes with work,” Obama said in a White House appearance designed to pressure Congress into passing an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000 a year.

Warning that there is still a long way to go to “reclaim all the jobs that were lost during the recession,” Obama blasted Romney’s tax plan — which a recent study said would cut taxes for the rich, but increase the burden on others — as “upside-down economics.”

“We’re not going to get to where we need to be if we go back to the policies that helped create this mess in the first place,” Obama said. “The last thing that we should be doing is asking middle-class families who are still struggling to recover to pay more in taxes.”

Romney pushed back hard against the study’s findings, saying it was “patently untrue” that lower earners would have to shoulder the burden and declaring that “higher-income people are not going to pay a smaller share of taxes in America if I’m president.”

Romney said his economic plan would create 12 million jobs. He also stepped up his criticism of Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line from a Roanoke rally last month, telling his audience in Nevada that the statement “may go down as the most famous quote of his entire presidency.”

As Romney was speaking, about two-dozen protesters outside were gathered, chanting, “Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!”

But Bernice Poliandro, a 67-year-old retiree from North Las Vegas who attended the rally, said she believed Romney had already made enough tax information known.

“I feel if there’s anything wrong with his taxes, our present administration should have checked it out already with the IRS,” Poliandro said.

Romney later pushed back against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) claim that Romney did not pay taxes for several years.

“Let me say categorically, I have paid taxes every year — a lot of taxes,” Romney said during a brief news availability after a campaign event. “So Harry is wrong.”

On Capitol Hill, both parties cited the jobs report as evidence that they should get their way in ongoing fights over taxes and spending.

For Republicans, the numbers were proof that Democrats should agree to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, instead of ending the cuts for the richest Americans. They also worried about the impact of the so-called sequester — a massive set of cuts to defense and other spending, which Congress imposed on itself after failing to agree on a plan to cut the deficit last year.

“Republicans believe we can ignite the economic engine of this country once again. We have the talent. We have the capital,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. “But the biggest obstacle to economic growth is the president’s insistence on higher taxes and dangerous defense cuts.”

For Democrats, the jobs numbers were proof of something entirely opposite: the need to extend some, but not all, of Bush’s tax cuts. Democrats want to end the tax cuts on incomes over $250,000 per year, which would hit the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

“The last thing the American people need right now is more uncertainty, more unfairness, and higher taxes on working families and small businesses,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in her own statement. “Yet House Republicans continue to stand as the lone roadblock to a middle class tax cut — preferring to hold tax relief for 100 percent of Americans hostage to extra tax breaks for the top 2 percent.”

Felicia Sonmez in North Las Vegas, Nev., Debbi Wilgoren and David Nakamura contributed to this report.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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