WOLFEBORO, N.H. – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this morning gave his most in-depth defense yet of his assertion that President Obama made the recession worse – a criticism he tried to disavow last week.
Speaking to nearly 100 people at a restaurant in Wolfeboro, Romney said Obama did not cause the recession, but worsened it “through a series of actions which hurt the economy in a time he needed it to be taking off.’’
He added: “The recovery is extraordinarily anemic because of things he did that made the recovery worse.’’
Independent fact check agencies have questioned Romney’s claim, noting that the recession ended in June 2009, just six months after Obama took office.
Nonetheless, Romney made the statement in his June 2 speech formally declaring his candidacy.
“Barack Obama has failed America. When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse,’’ Romney told the crowd in Stratham, N.H.
The former Massachusetts governor subsequently repeated the claim, but then, when asked to back it up last week during a news conference, denied ever making the statement.
“I didn’t say that things are worse,’’ Romney said last Thursday in Allentown, Pa.
Today, Romney sought to buttress his initial statement by pointing to specific policies that Obama implemented or supported.
He said Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package created government jobs rather than private sector jobs.
He said policies Obama promoted, including a cap-and-trade emissions policy and “card check’’ for union members, led business owners to hold off on growing their businesses because of the uncertainty about the costs of those policies.
Romney said cap and trade, which would cap emissions of pollutants and force polluters to pay for their emissions, would increase energy costs. Card check legislation would make it easier for workers to unionize.
“If you’re in a business…and you have a lot of employees, that’s going to make you pull back, because you don’t know what your cost of labor is going to be,’’ the candidate said.
Romney said the health care industry is also pulling back because it does not know the impact of the new taxes and regulations in Obama’s federal health care overhaul, which he called “the biggest federal takeover of state’s rights I’ve seen.’’
Romney also criticized the government’s handling of Wall Street reform through the Dodd-Frank bill, which, in response to the recession, enacted consumer protections including reform of derivatives trading, and new regulations for mortgage lenders and hedge funds.
“The bill dramatically added to the regulation burden of the financial industry, so bankers and people in financial services pull back,’’ he said.
Romney faced several tough questions from the audience, including one from Sylvia Smith, a Tea Party activist from Littleton, N.H.
She questioned the health care overhaul Romney implemented in Massachusetts, which included a mandate requiring all adults who could afford it to buy health insurance.
“A mandate forcing people to buy a product they don’t want is tyranny no matter what level it’s at,’’ Smith said.
Romney responded that it is constitutional for states to mandate buying health insurance. In Massachusetts, he said, the requirement was necessary to stop people who can afford health insurance from relying on the government to pay for their care.
Asked by another voter whether his Massachusetts health care plan was a mistake, Romney responded, “What we did in Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts. …The nice thing about a state solution to a state problem, as opposed to a federal takeover, is states, if they don’t like something, can change it.’’