Kerry gets a boost from jobs report

Democrats are quick to blame Bush policies for stagnant employment

Election 2004

March 06, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The latest unemployment statistics escalated the political war over the economy yesterday, with Democrats asserting that the lackluster job growth underscored the failures of the Bush administration's economic policy, while Republicans countered that a tax-raising Democratic president would only make the problem worse.

On Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, Democrats ridiculed the administration for falling far short of its promises to restore a healthy job market.

Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, told a cheering rally of workers protesting the migration of jobs overseas: "President Bush has said the economy is growing, that there are jobs out there. But you know, it's a long commute to China to get those jobs."

At a rally in New Orleans, Sen. John Kerry, the all-but-official Democratic nominee, attacked the administration's economic policies, responding to Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that Democratic proposals for higher taxes on the rich would harm the economy.

"Dick Cheney went on TV and said if we had John Kerry's tax policies we wouldn't have had the job growth we've had in the country right now," Kerry told the crowd. `'I came here to say today, `You're darn right, Mr. Vice President. We'd have had real job growth; Americans would be working.'"

Republicans had clearly hoped for a much better performance in February than the creation of only 21,000 jobs but still went on the offensive.

Terry Holt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said: "John Kerry's 20-year record of supporting higher taxes for businesses and families would derail America's economic recovery."

The Bush campaign itemized what it asserted was a long history of Kerry votes for higher taxes, "more regulation and red tape" and against legislation to limit "frivolous lawsuits" and "lower health care costs."

Throughout the day, Bush officials argued that Kerry would represent a risky shift in direction on the economy, just as they had argued he would be on national security. This reflected the theme of the Bush re-election effort, which formally kicked into gear this week with a major advertising campaign.

Still, Glen Bolger, whose firm is part of the Bush campaign's polling team, said, "Clearly, you'd like to see the job growth a little more robust than 21,000. ... The president is realistic when he says, `We're not done yet; there's lots more to do.'"

Sen. Robert F. Bennett, the Utah Republican who is the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, suggested yesterday that the economy was going through complex and fundamental change, with an "inexorable" decline in manufacturing employment and remarkable gains in productivity.

Still, he acknowledged, "The Democrats are ahead in the rhetorical war, I will admit that. It's easier for them to shout slogans in 30-second commercials than it is for the administration to explain the realities of what is happening in the economy."

And John Feehery, spokesman for the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, said: "No one should be happy about these numbers. It just shows you there is a changing economy out there. But Democrats are talking about economic isolationism, and that's not going to create any more jobs."

The nation's trade agreements and their effect on employment emerged as one of the most powerful issues during the Democratic nominating season, and the new job figures only fed those fires.

At the rally on Capitol Hill yesterday, workers held signs declaring, "Outsource Bush," "Stop Exporting American Jobs," and "Jobs - Worth Fighting For." They heard from a worker at an Electrolux refrigerator plan in Michigan that is scheduled to close and transfer much of its work to Mexico.

"It's like a stomachache that will not go away," said the worker, Dave Doolittle.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said, "We need a White House that's going to be tough and fight for us." Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota was one of several Democrats who scoffed at Bush for saying this week that lots of companies might add two or three workers each as a result of his tax policies. "We've lost 3 million jobs since he's been in office!" Dorgan said.

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