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Friday, August 3, 2012

A Split-Screen Debate Over Jobs and Taxes


President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, engaged in a split-screen debate over jobs and taxes on Friday as they presented starkly different views of the state of the economy and starkly different visions for the way forward.

In separate speeches that by happenstance were delivered simultaneously thousands of miles apart, the two presidential contenders effectively quarreled over the significance of the latest jobs report and who would do a better job of keeping down taxes so that the economy can grow more robustly than it has over the last three years.

Mr. Obama appeared with families invited to the White House complex to pressure Congress to extend tax cuts for the middle class while letting taxes rise for the wealthy. Mr. Romney visited a trucking business in Las Vegas to make the point that the president does not understand how the private sector works. Both were res ponding to a report with mixed news showing 163,000 new jobs created last month, more than expected, but the unemployment rate ticking up to 8.3 percent.

“I knew when I started in this job that this was going to take some time,” Mr. Obama said in his speech. “We haven't had to come back from an economic crisis this deep or this painful since the 1930s, but we also knew if we were persistent, if we kept at it, if we kept working, we would gradually get to where we need to be.”

To get there, though, the president said, Congress should renew the Bush-era tax cuts but not on income above $250,000 a year. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed a tax extension as Mr. Obama wanted but the House, run by Republicans, voted to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthy.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “Those are their priorities. And this week we learned that there are some in the Republican Party who don't want to stop even there.”

He then raised, as he has for the last couple days, a new study suggesting that Mr. Romney's tax-cutting plan would actually result in tax increases for 95 percent of Americans if it were to be “revenue neutral,” as he has said. The Romney campaign has disputed the study, noting that one of its authors used to work for Mr. Obama and that its conclusions were based on assumptions that the former governor of Massachusetts does not share.

Speaking at the same time on the other side of the country, Mr. Romney on Friday slammed Mr. Obama, saying he was presiding over an economy that is failing to recover from a devastating recession.

“The president does not understand how the economy works,” he said. “He does not understand how the private se ctor works.”

Mr. Romney reprised his attacks on the president's remark that “if you have a business, you didn't build that.” The White House has said the president meant that private entrepreneurs depend not just on individual initiative but also on infrastructure like roads and bridges. Mr. Romney said the remark “may go down as the most famous quote of his entire presidency.”

“We celebrate people who are smart,” Mr. Romney said. “We celebrate achievement in this country. We do not celebrate government.”

Peter Baker reported from Washington and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Las Vegas.