Updated with Romney reaction at 12:15 pm EDT
“This morning we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office,” President Barack Obama said today at a campaign rally in Virginia. “Today’s news is certainly not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It’s a reminder that this economy has come too far to turn back now.”
And so, with one turn of a government statistic, the president found new lift following a week in which he widely was viewed as losing the first presidential debate with Republican Mitt Romney. Obama already has drawn a laugh-line from that debate — with Romney’s threat to cut federal funding for “Big Bird.” But now he has some timely ammunition for the more fundamental question about fixing the economy.
This was the president’s first appearance since the Labor Department this morning announced a decline in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent in September, the first time in three-and-a-half years that the rate has fallen below 8 percent and the lowest rate since Obama took office in January 2009.
Today, Obama told his audience at George Mason University, 5.2 million jobs have been created on his watch. Romney is campaigning with a claim that he can add 12 million with a combination of tax incentives, energy independence and deficit cutting.
Romney is looking at the newest employment report from the Labor Department from another angle:
“There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month,” Romney said at his own campaign rally in Abingdon, Virginia, today. “The reason it’s come down is that more and more people have just stopped looking for work.”
“It looks like unemployment is looking better,” Romney said, but “the real reality of what’s happening out there” is that people have stopped looking. If all the people who wanted jobs were looking, he maintained, unemployment would exceed 11 percent.
Romney, Obama warned, wants to return to the ways of former President George W. Bush with tax cuts that can only worsen the deficit.
One of the reasons for the current deficit, Obama said, is “because we put two wars and two tax cuts on a credit card.” And now Romney wants to cut taxes again, he said — “We are not going to let this country turn back now.”
Romney has maintained that he will offset his 20 percent tax cuts across the board with the elimination of tax exemptions, particularly for high-earners, yet he hasn’t specified those loophole closings — leaving himself vulnerable to Obama’s claim that Romney will cut taxes by $5 trillion, primarily for the wealthy, and worsen the deficit in the process.
Romney, for his part, has offered few ideas for cutting the deficit, Obama said, with what has become an oft-used allusion to their first debate this week:
“His biggest example was to go after public television,” the president said. “For all you moms and dads out there, don’t worry, somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird… Governor Romney is going to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Sesame Street.”
Tim Kaine, the former govenor of Virginia and Democratic National Committee chairman running for Senate, introduced Obama at the college campus: “We’re not going to cut the deficit by giving tax breaks to Exxon-Mobil and firing Big Bird, folks.”