Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner defended his boss Sunday against charges from Mitt Romney that women have "suffered" under the Obama administration -- in what has become one of the first big clashes between the two sides since Romney emerged as the presumptive GOP nominee.
In a round of Sunday show interviews, Geithner slammed the Republican candidate for citing a seemingly staggering statistic -- that 92.3 percent of jobs lost since Obama took office were held by women.
Romney adviser Ed Gillespie invoked the stat again on "Fox News Sunday," saying "we need to reverse that."
The Obama administration doesn't dispute the figure. But Geithner said it doesn't tell the whole story.
"It's a ridiculous way to look at the problem," Geithner said on ABC's "This Week."
The recession began more than a year before President Obama took office, and over the course of the downturn has resulted in more jobs lost by men than women.
Geithner said men lost more jobs early on -- during the George W. Bush administration -- when the manufacturing and construction sectors were shedding the male-dominated positions. He said women lost jobs -- largely during the Obama administration -- when the crisis spread and local governments cut back, especially on female-dominated teaching positions.
"This is a political moment," Geithner said of the Romney criticism.
The female job-loss stat, though, is aimed at a centerpiece of the Obama campaign's message -- that Romney represents policies that are bad for women. The Obama campaign has tried to capitalize on polling that shows the incumbent president with a decided advantage over Romney among female voters. Romney has an advantage -- albeit a slimmer one -- among men.
With Rick Santorum suspending his campaign on Tuesday, Romney appears to have a relatively smooth path to the Republican nomination. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, whom he leads by a wide margin, remain in the race, but the Obama and Romney teams are focused squarely on one another at this stage.
On Sunday, Gillespie stood by the criticism of female job losses under Obama.
"More men than women lost jobs before President Obama took office. More women lost jobs since President Obama took office," he told "Fox News Sunday." "The fact that more men lost before he took office doesn't make it a good thing that more (women) lost since he took office. It's a bad thing and we need to reverse that."
Gillespie echoed the candidate's argument that Romney's economic proposals would help women, saying, "we have ... the highest poverty rate for women in 17 years."
The Obama team got knocked off its stride on its appeal to female voters this past week when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said Romney's wife Ann, a mother of five, had "never worked a day in her life." The Obama campaign condemned the remark, and Rosen later apologized.
As Geithner defended Obama on the economic front Sunday, campaign adviser David Axelrod continued to criticize Romney for calling for a federal funding cutoff for Planned Parenthood.
"Mitt Romney is out there arguing that we should cut Planned Parenthood because we can't afford funding for women's health programs ... That's $300 million a year," Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday."
But Gillespie said a federal funding cutoff would not prevent private donations from streaming into Planned Parenthood.
"Federal funding of abortion is not a noble thing to do," Gillespie said. Though federal rules already prohibit federal funding of abortion, Gillespie suggested taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood was indirectly subsidizing abortion by paying for the group's other services.