By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pounced on a weak U.S. jobs report on Friday to denounce President Barack Obama's economic policies and shift the campaign narrative away from healthcare, where he has struggled in recent days.
Calling high unemployment a "kick in the gut," Romney moved to take advantage of a Labor Department report that showed the U.S. jobless rate held steady at 8.2 percent in June with a fewer-than-projected 80,000 jobs created.
"The president's policies have not gotten America working again and the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it," Romney said in New Hampshire.
The monthly jobs report, which could set the tone for the next month of campaigning for the November 6 election, allowed Romney to move away from the uncomfortable issue of healthcare.
He had difficulty in reacting to a Supreme Court ruling last week that found Obama's overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system constitutional.
The Romney camp this week first agreed with Obama that the mandate requiring people get health insurance was a penalty, before Romney finally got in line with congressional Republicans by declaring it a tax.
Romney, on vacation in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, staged a rare news conference to respond to the jobs report and was quickly asked about the healthcare debate.
"You know, I've spoken about healthcare from the day we passed it in Massachusetts, and people said, 'is this something you'd apply at the federal level?' and I said no. So the right course for the federal government is to allow states to create their own plans," Romney said.
Democrats say the Obama plan was modeled on the overhaul Romney developed as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney has come under criticism for not providing specifics on how he would rekindle growth in the U.S. economy, and instead declaring that the economy is weak and it is Obama's fault. Asked about this criticism, Romney cited a 59-point plan he released months ago as evidence he has a plan to create jobs.
It includes easing regulations to permit increased production of energy, cracking down on China for its trade policies, promoting more trade abroad particularly in Latin America, and cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and reducing Americans' individual tax rates.
"I don't say much to critics," said Romney. "I put out 59 steps for how I'd get the economy going."
Romney struck a sober tone in describing the pain of Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed.
"This is a time America to choose whether they want more of the same, whether unemployment above 8 percent month after month after month is satisfactory or not," he said. "It doesn't have to be this way. America can do better, and this kick in the gut has got to end."
(Reporting By Steve Holland)
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