Obama touts job growth; GOP says it's not enough

President Barack Obama gestures during a speech on the economy, Friday, March 9, 2012, at the Rolls Royce aircraft engine part production plant in Prince George, Va.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

President Obama on Friday touted the strongest three months of job growth since the before the recession started five years ago as further evidence the U.S. economy is improving, though he cautioned that too many Americans remain out of work.

Mr. Obama, speaking to workers at a Rolls Royce aircraft-parts manufacturing plant in Virginia, highlighted the 233,000 private sector jobs added to the U.S. economy in February.

"More companies are bringing jobs back and investing in America. And manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s," Mr. Obama told the crowd, "the economy is getting stronger."

The Labor Department said Friday that the economy added 227,000 net new jobs in February. It also revised higher the figures for job growth in December and January, with 61,000 more jobs created in those two months than previously thought. The unemployment rate, however, remained at 8.3 percent, after falling for five consecutive months. The cumulative job growth for the three months through February was the fastest pace since early 2006.

The president also unveiled a new proposal aimed at creating a nationwide network of institutions - including government agencies, universities, and manufacturing plants - meant to work together to increase technological and manufacturing innovations.

"We are Americans. We are inventors. We are builders," Mr. Obama said. "That's who we are. That's what we do. We invent stuff, we build it, and pretty soon the entire world adapts it."

Even while the White House touted the new jobs report as evidence that the economy is growing - a message that will likely prove central to Mr. Obama's re-election campaign - Republicans highlighted the unemployment rate as proof that Democratic efforts at improving the economy had yet proved insufficient.

"Today's report provides some encouragement for millions of families and small businesses who continue to struggle in this economy, but unemployment remains far too high," said House Speaker John Boehner, in a statement. "It is a testament to the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people that they are creating any jobs in the midst of the onslaught of anti-business policies coming from this administration."

Boehner also urged Senate Democrats to pass a Republican jobs act "so we can stop government policies that are adding to our debt, raising gas prices, and preventing robust private-sector job growth."

In a statement Friday morning, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said, of the job growth rate, that "any new job is a welcome paycheck for the American worker, but as past recoveries show, the current rate of growth will leave the American economy sputtering for years to come."

"The unfortunate reality for American families is that any marginal job growth is muted by soaring prices at the pump," Gingrich added. "The Obama administration has routinely hampered attempts to increase domestic oil production and is actively hobbling a truly American recovery."

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, also accused the president of hampering job creation by denying a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a 1,700 mile underground oil pipeline linking the tar sands fields of northern Alberta to oil refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

"I would say that the one area where employment has gone down, is the construction sector," Hutchison told reporters Friday in a press conference. "And if we could just get the president to let the Keystone Pipeline go through, we could increase jobs exponentially."

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said in a briefing Friday that it wasn't getting "too excited about one month's job numbers" but that the "today's jobs numbers are a continuation of a trend that is encouraging."

He also said that Mr. Obama was focused on a number of new initiatives - including the one he announced in Virginia today - aimed at strengthening the U.S. economy in the long-term.

"There are a range of other proposals that the President offered -- last fall, the American Jobs Act, that Congress has not yet acted on," Earnest told reporters. "And so we want Congress to do more to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and support the private sector as they lead our economic recovery."