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Bush hails jobs numbers, economy

President delivers optimistic message in West Virginia

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George W. Bush

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CNN) -- Buoyed by new numbers showing stronger-than-expected job growth, President Bush on Friday hailed the U.S. economy as strong and "getting stronger," and he called on Congress to keep in place a series of temporary tax cuts and credits.

"The tax relief we passed is working. It's making a difference for this economy," Bush told the audience at Marshall University, where he was greeted with loud cheers and applause as he delivered what's become a stump speech.

Bush said his administration's focus on tax cuts -- including a higher child tax credit, breaks for small businesses and the reduction of the so-called marriage penalty in the income tax code -- had spurred growth.

Many of those provisions will expire unless Congress renews them or makes them permanent, which Bush urged lawmakers to do.

The president also cited new numbers from the Labor Department that showed a growth of 308,000 non-farm jobs in March -- more than six times the growth reported one month earlier. (CNN/Money: U.S. adds 308,000 jobs, most in 4 years)

"You can understand why I'm optimistic when I cite these statistics because I remember what we've been through," Bush said.

The presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerrry was, not surprisingly, far more subdued in its assessment of the numbers.

"After three years of punishing job losses, the one-month job creation announced today is welcome news for America's workers," Kerry said in a written statement. "I hope it continues."

Kerry touted his own plan to revitalize manufacturing, saying the Bush administration has done little to help that sector of the economy.

The president made no mention of the campaign or his opponent in his speech. But he touched on a number of issues on which he differs with Democrats.

For example, he called on Congress to pass legislation to limit malpractice lawsuits. He also appeared to tie the "legal environment" to a movement of some jobs overseas -- a trend Kerry has highlighted and blamed on the administration.

"If we want our jobs to stay here in America," Bush said, Congress should act to cut down on litigation.

Bush sat on a stool during his speech, holding what the White House described as a "conversation" with some students and educators.

He heard from some students who talked about how community college courses had helped them find new jobs and careers. Bush has previously proposed about $250 million in grants for community colleges that work with businesses looking for workers. (CNN/Money: Your Job 2004, an in-depth report)

As he routinely does in such appearances, Bush defended his decision to go to war with Iraq and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. "When we see a threat, we cannot let it materialize," Bush said, citing that as a lesson of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

And without making direct reference to Wednesday's killing and mutilation of four American civilians in Iraq, Bush vowed his administration will not retreat.

"We will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins," Bush said to applause.

Following his speech in West Virginia, Bush left for Georgia, where he is scheduled to meet with top campaign donors.

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