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Bush's Record on Jobs: Risking Unhappy Comparisons
By DAVID LEONHARDT
George W. Bush finds himself in danger of becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover to oversee a decline in the country's employment.
Chart: Presidents and Jobs
Bush Faulted for Jobless Rate
Democrats Blame Policies for Jump in Unemployment Level
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2003; Page A04
Democrats pounced on yesterday's sharp rise in the unemployment rate, attacking President Bush's "simplistic, knee-jerk tax cuts" as a policy failure and claiming the president "doesn't have a clue" about how to fix an economy that has lost 3.4 million jobs since he took office.
"New unemployment figures show that more Americans are unemployed than at any time since the end of the last Bush recession," former Vermont governor Howard Dean said while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa. "For the first time since Herbert Hoover, there may be fewer Americans with jobs at the end of a presidency than at the beginning."
The jump in the unemployment rate caught many economic experts by surprise and added to the challenges facing the administration. Coming at the end of a week that saw more U.S. casualties and continued instability in Iraq, the rise in joblessness underscored the president's twin political vulnerabilities, despite his relatively strong approval ratings.
Democrats saw the jobless report, showing the highest level of unemployment in nine years, both as evidence that Bush's policies are not working and as an opportunity to gain ground politically on an issue that will be crucial to the outcome of next year's presidential campaign.
Republican strategists said the one-month unemployment numbers alone were not a cause of great concern, but warned that the sheer longevity of what has been described as a "jobless recovery" eventually could become a significant problem for a president heading into a reelection campaign.
"I don't think that any given month's number makes a difference, and I don't think there's a magic number, but clearly there's a point beyond which the public will no longer be patient," said David Hill, a Republican pollster.
Hill said he does not believe that has happened yet, but Democrats said the economy has reemerged as the most important issue on the minds of voters and that Bush bears the responsibility for restoring economic growth and reducing unemployment.
Dean was one of a string of potential Democratic challengers to Bush in 2004 who challenged the administration's economic record yesterday.
Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) said in a statement that the new jobless figures were "more evidence that the economic policies of the Bush administration are wrong for our country and devastating for our workers."
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) said the administration has offered "no plan, no vision, no answer beyond simplistic knee-jerk tax cuts for the wealthiest among us." Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) issued a statement calling the president clueless when it comes to dealing with the economy and blaming the president's tax cuts for focusing more on wealthy Americans than those in the middle class.
Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) said in a statement that "Bushonomics has failed America" and claimed that the president "shows no signs that he knows how to lead us out of the economic stagnation his policies have created in this country." Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) said Bush now has made history "by presiding over the largest number of jobs lost under any modern president."
Republican pollster Ed Goeas said Americans are continuing to take a wait-and-see attitude about the economy, not leaping to the conclusion that Bush's policies have failed. But Goeas added that Democrats are mistaken if they believe the public has more confidence in them to put the economy back on track. "They're not coming from a credible position on handling the economy," he said. "I've seen no signs that they're getting traction on the economy."
Steve Murphy, Gephardt's campaign manager, said, "The Republicans and Bush are clearly hoping for better economic news, and they're not getting it. So I think it's unmistakable: They're going to get hurt by this. He's [Bush] not going to be able to get away for the next 14 or 16 months saying it's Clinton's recession."