Fighting to become the first president since World War II to win re-election with unemployment above 8 percent, Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged "more work to do" to boost job growth. The Democrat also accused Republicans of practicing "upside-down economics" that help the wealthy but neglect the middle class.
Obama defended his economic record shortly after the release of new data showing that the economy created 163,000 new jobs in July, but that the unemployment rate rose from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent.
"We've now created 4.5 million new jobs over the last 29 months and 1.1 million new jobs so far this year," the president said. "But let's acknowledge: We've still got too many folks out there who are looking for work. We've got more work to do on their behalf."
Obama, surrounded by a hand-picked group of middle-class families and workers, pushed Republicans to rally behind his call to extend Bush-era tax cuts on income up to $250,000 but let those that benefit only the very wealthiest Americans expire.
"The last thing that we should be doing is asking middle-class families who are still struggling to recover from this recession to pay more in taxes," he said at the campaign-style event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the bulk of White House staff work. "Rebuilding a strong economy begins with rebuilding our middle class."
Republicans want to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts and warn that raising taxes on the richest Americans will curtail investment that fuels job growth. They have rejected the president's proposal.
Obama accused his congressional foes of holding middle-class tax cuts "hostage" and charged: "That's not just top-down economics, that's upside-down economics."
And he underlined that every American would benefit on their first $250,000 of income, "even someone who's worth $200 million." (Romney is reportedly worth about $250 million.)
"We're going to have plenty to argue about in the next months, and probably in the next five years; this shouldn't be one of those things we argue about," Obama said, effectively predicting victory over Mitt Romney in November.
But the Republican standard-bearer led his party in seizing on the new jobs figures as ammunition in the fight to make the Democrat a one-termer.
Romney called the unemployment rate "a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families" and underlined that the rate has been stuck above 8 percent for the last 42 months.
"Middle-class Americans deserve better, and I believe America can do better," the Republican challenger said in a statement.
(How much of a political danger does the unemployment rate number pose to Obama? Top White House economic adviser Alan Krueger underlined in an official blog post that "more precisely, the rate rose from 8.217% in June to 8.254% in July" and that the acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the government office that produces the jobs report—called the rate "essentially unchanged from June to July.)
Obama's greatest vulnerability heading into the fall campaign is the economy, which is still sputtering three and a half years after he took office. His remarks on Friday—billed as an official, not a campaign event—showcased some of the counter-arguments he has been making on the stump. The president regularly emphasizes the depth of the crisis he inherited (he said no other downturn has been "this deep or this painful since the 1930s"); highlights the sluggish but steady resurgence of private sector; casts himself as the champion of the middle class and Romney as chiefly concerned about the wealthy; and warns voters that a shift to Republican policies will make things worse (he said their ideas "helped to create this mess in the first place"). And he has waged war on Romney's approach to the economy—hitting his personal finances as well as his proposals.