President Obama and Mitt Romney give differing spin on the July jobs report
The economy added 163,000 jobs last month, but unemployment rose slightly
Romney says an allegation that he didn't pay taxes some years is not true
Obama and his campaign note that job growth continues, but more is needed
A glass half-full or emptying fast? Depends on who you listened to Friday as President Barack Obama and certain Republican nominee Mitt Romney described the July jobs report at competing public appearances.
Flanked by what he called middle-class Americans at the White House, Obama said the July figures showed 29 straight months of job growth, including 1.1 million new jobs this year, following the recession that was in place when he took office in January 2009.
“We haven’t had to come back from an economic crisis this deep or this painful since the 1930s,” Obama said. “But we also knew that if we were persistent, if we kept at it and kept working, that we’d gradually get to where we need to be.”
At a campaign event in Las Vegas, Romney noted that unemployment rose slightly and remained above 8% for a 42nd straight month despite Obama’s campaign promise four years ago that it would be lower.
“This continues a pattern of American families really struggling, having hard times, and the president’s to blame for not having gotten the economy back on track,” Romney said after the event, which was held in an area where unemployment is above the national average.
“A lot of people are suffering in this country,” he continued. “I think it’s an extraordinary failure of policy, a failure of leadership, and I think it’s a moral failure for a country as successful and prosperous as our own to go now four years in a mode which feels to many people as a recession.”
With three months until November’s general election, the jobs reports take on particular significance, as voters consider the economy in general and high unemployment in particular to be their most important issues.
The July figures announced Friday showed an increase in the unemployment rate to 8.3%, which hurts Obama on the issue, but also showed a net job creation of 163,000, all in the private sector.
The public sector continues to be a drag on overall hiring, with the government cutting 9,000 jobs last month while private businesses added 172,000.
While well below the level needed for a full recovery, the growth put Obama within reach of having an overall positive jobs record by the time voters go to the polls on November 6.
Since Obama took office, 4.316 million jobs were lost in the first 13 months of his presidency, with 4 million net jobs now added back. If the economy adds more than 316,000 jobs in the next three months – an average of just over 105,300 per month – Obama will be able to claim the title of job creator on Election Day.
Republicans rejected any such notion Friday.
“President Obama’s only plans for a second term are higher taxes and more spending – exactly the opposite of what we need,” said a statement by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Romney also dismissed any idea that Obama is leading the nation in the right economic direction, calling the latest jobs number a “hammer blow to struggling middle-class families.”
On another matter, Romney again rejected calls to release more of his past tax returns and denied a claim by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, that an unidentified former associate of Romney’s had said Romney – a multimillionaire – paid no taxes in past years.
“I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes … so Harry is simply wrong, and that’s why I’m so anxious for him to give us the names of the people who’ve put this forward,” Romney told reporters, calling the tax return issue a Democratic effort to divert attention from a bad economy under Obama.
Romney also promoted his five-point plan introduced Thursday as part of simplified messaging advocated by some Republican strategists. The proposals are traditional conservative stances on domestic energy production, trade, job training, deficit reduction and boosting small businesses.
“My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with 12 million new jobs created by the end of my first term,” he said in a statement released Friday morning in response to the jobs report.
At the White House, Obama took aim at the tax component of the Romney plan, repeating criticism from earlier this week that a new study showed the proposal would mean large tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and higher taxes for the middle class.
Such a policy amounts to “upside down economics,” Obama said.
“I just think we’ve got our priorities skewed if the notion is that we give tax breaks to folks who don’t need it, and to help pay for that, we tax folks who’re already struggling to get by,” he said. “That’s not how you grow an economy.”
Obama repeated his call for House Republicans to follow the Senate and pass a measure extending tax cuts on income up to $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals. The Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of the year, and Obama says they should be extended only for lower- and middle-income Americans.
This week, the House rejected the plan passed by Senate Democrats and instead approved a measure extending all the Bush tax cuts,which Obama called “disappointing.”
“At a time when too many working families are already struggling to make ends meet, they want to give millionaires and billionaires and folks like me tax cuts that we don’t need and that the country can’t afford, even if middle-class families have to pick up the tab for it,” he said.
Romney and Republicans want to extend all the Bush tax cuts for now to prevent any increase, while Obama says the lower rates should not continue for the wealthiest 2% of Americans to bring more fairness to the system and save money.
Both sides call for comprehensive tax reform after the election as part of necessary deficit reduction steps.
The issue touches on the foundations of the nation’s political divide, with Republicans driven by their conservative base seeking to shrink government to reduce deficits, while Democrats want a blend of spending cuts and more tax revenue in order to maintain what they consider essential services and entitlement programs.
Romney later told reporters that he wanted Obama and Congress to agree now on interim measures that would provide whoever wins the election with a six-month or one-year “runway” to come up with tax reform and deficit reduction policies.
Under last year’s debt ceiling agreement, the government faces steep mandatory spending cuts in January if Congress fails to reach a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement. The mandated cuts, which include military spending, would come at the same time the Bush tax cuts expire if no action is taken.
Romney outlined his tax policy as lowering rates across the board while eliminating some exemptions for high-income taxpayers. He rejected the accusation by Obama and a report by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center that his plan would mean higher taxes on middle-income Americans.
“I want to lower the taxes paid by middle-income Americans,” Romney said. “I will not raise taxes on the American people.”
However, Romney and his advisers say specifics of the plan – such as which exemptions would be eliminated and other details – would be worked out only when the proposals are fully formulated in a Romney administration.
Romney’s campaign rejected the Tax Policy Center report as biased for not including the impact of job creation under the Romney tax plan in its findings, and noted a former Obama economic adviser was one of the three authors.
Obama and his campaign responded that another of the report’s authors was an economic adviser to former President George H.W. Bush, and that tax cut policies proposed by Romney failed to spark job creation under President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Romney refused to provide any further information Friday when asked about naming a running mate, giving his usual response that the announcement will occur by the third day of the Republican convention at the end of August.
CNNMoney’s Charles Riley and Annalyn Censky and CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Shawna Shepherd and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.