Mitt Romney walked back his oft-repeated claim that President Obama made the recession worse, telling reporters in Pennsylvania on Thursday that he never meant to suggest any such thing.
Asked by NBC how he squared his claim that Obama worsened the lousy economy he inherited given that the stock market has surged, unemployment is down from its peak, and the economy is no longer shrinking, Romney demurred.
“I didn’t say that things are worse,” he said. He went on to make the case that Obama had failed to do enough on jobs, a much less inflammatory claim.
“The president of the United States, when he put in place his stimulus plan and borrowed $787 billion, said he would hold unemployment below 8% — and 8% seemed like an awfully high number,” he said. “It hasn’t been below 8% since. That’s failure.”
In the past Romney has repeatedly argued the recession was both lengthier and more severe as a result of Obama’s economic policies, a claim that has drawn the ire of some independent fact-checkers.
“He didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer,” he said in his first debate in New Hampshire.
But his latest explanation is a far cry from saying, for example, that the stimulus actually cost the economy jobs and slowed growth. While many critics on the right believe the legislation wasn’t cost-effective or was poorly crafted, there are few credible experts who say that it didn’t boost the economy in the short term. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in 2010 that it grew the economy by an additional 4% in its first year and that the recession would have continued significantly longer without its support. Romney himself called on Congress to pass a stimulus package in 2008 that contained many similar elements to the one President Obama signed, including tax relief and investments in renewable energy, and was premised on the same economic rationale.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.