Friday's weaker-than-expected jobs report became election-year fodder as Republicans seized on the numbers to criticize President Barack Obama, and Democrats warned against reading too much into one month of data.
The Labor Department said that employers added 120,000 jobs in March, after an increase of 227,000 in February. It was the fewest jobs added in five months. Unemployment fell to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent as discouraged workers left the labor force. The jobs growth was less than the most pessimistic estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.
The election may turn on independent voters’ views of U.S. economic policy, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on NBC’s “Meet the Press" Sunday.
‘‘Whoever can tell them that they’re going to improve this economy, create jobs for families, will be the winner,’’ said Kasich, a Republican. Ohio voters backed Obama in 2008 and have supported the national winner in every presidential election since 1960.
Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, indicated disappointment with the latest jobs numbers.
‘‘Like the president, we want this to move more quickly,’’ Durbin said on NBC. ‘‘We’re moving in the right direction.’’
The comments by Durbin and Kasich echoed statements that Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made soon after the jobs report’s release.
Obama, who is seeking a second four-year term, said the new jobs are ‘‘welcome’’ and pointed to employment gains over the past two years.
Romney, who has more than half the delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination, said Obama’s ‘‘excuses have run out.’’
Kasich blamed the political divide between the parties in Washington for the failure to improve conditions more quickly.
‘‘Government clearly has a role in the area of healthcare, in Medicare and in Medicaid and in Social Security,’’ he said. ‘‘But we need to modernize the program, and we need to do it together.’’
Durbin criticized the budget passed by House Republicans, saying that the proposed changes to Medicare would force future retirees to find health care on the open market.
As Obama has done, Durbin criticized Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, for describing the House budget plan as ‘‘marvelous.’’
Romney’s approach would constitute ‘‘a return to the same economic policy we had under President Bush that brought on the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Durbin said, referring to Republican President George W. Bush. “We don’t want to go back to those economic policies.”
Republicans said that the Democratic-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget and that Obama hasn’t identified a clear plan for reducing the federal budget deficit and debt.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” that voters in November would encounter an “extremely stark choice” about the economy and the budget.
“We need presidential leadership and we have none,” he said.
What’s lacking, said Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, is bipartisan cooperation. Conrad, of North Dakota, is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and has endorsed plans to reduce the deficit that rely on spending cuts and tax increases. Most Republicans say spending cuts alone should be used.
“If we don’t get together, we can’t accomplish anything,” he said on Fox Sunday in an appearance with Johnson.
Conrad said a broad budget agreement may emerge after the election. He said that could happen either before or after Jan. 1, when income tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.
Congress returns to work on the week of April 16. The Senate is scheduled to consider the “Buffett Rule,” a tax bill backed by Democrats that would require people making over $2 million to pay at least a 30 percent effective tax rate.
The rule is named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has called for higher taxes on investment income.
Obama is planning a speech on the Buffett Rule April 10 in Boca Raton, Fla.
Separately, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Romney is “far and away” the most likely candidate to win the Republican nomination.
Speaking on Fox, the former speaker of the House said Sunday he’ll endorse Romney if he gets a majority of the delegates to the Republican nominating convention.
‘Very Substantial Machine’
“I have no regrets, but it’s clear that Governor Romney has done a very good job of building a very substantial machine,” Gingrich said. He added that his campaign is in debt and that he spent money in a “real brawl” in Florida, where he lost the Jan. 31 primary to Romney.
“We’re operating on a shoestring,” said Gingrich, 68.
After the latest round of primary voting, Romney has 658 delegates, according to an Associated Press tally. That is more than half the 1,144 needed to capture the nomination. Former Sen. Rick Santorum has 281 delegates, Gingrich trails with 135 delegates and Rep.Ron Paul of Texas has 51.
If Romney is the nominee, Gingrich said, “I will work as hard for him as I would for myself” during the fall campaign. Republicans are all committed to defeating Obama, a “genuine radical,” he said.
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