The author of a book documenting the White House’s policy making strategy, cited multiple times by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, says the former Massachusetts governor is using the book to dishonestly accuse President Obama of intentionally harming the economy.
“That is false, in a variety of ways. I don’t believe that it’s substantively true,” Noam Scheiber, author of The Escape Artists, told TPM by phone Thursday morning.
On Wednesday Romney said President Obama and his aides believed the health care reform law would harm the recovery but pushed for it anyway, and sourced the argument to Scheiber’s book. But the claim is not true.
“There are a couple of claims wound up together there in Romney’s remarks,” Scheiber said. “One claim is that [Obama’s team] knew that the Affordable Care Act itself — something about the Act — would derail the recovery…. They do not believe that it’s substantively true. So it’s not something that they felt, and it’s not something I argue in the book.”
At a campaign appearance in San Antonio, TX, Romney told attendees that “a book that was written in a way that’s apparently pro-President Obama, was written by a guy named Noam Scheiber. And in this book he says that there was a discussion about the fact that Obamacare would slow down the economic recovery in this country and they knew that before they passed it. But they concluded that we would all forget how long the recovery took once it had happened, so they decided to go ahead. The idea that they knowingly slowed down our recovery in order to put in place Obamacare, which they wanted and they considered historic but the American people did not want or consider historic, is something which I think deserves a lot of explaining, because I think the President’s responsibility is to put people back to work.”
That’s a gross oversimplification of the reality, says Scheiber.
“Romney’s imputing one big claim that I just do not make and that I just do not believe to be true,” he said. “Which is that there’s something substantively, sort of intrinsically about the Affordable Care Act that would derail the recovery. That, I personally don’t believe, and I don’t believe they believe it. The only argument I make in the book is an opportunity cost argument — that they deprived themselves of capital and time and space to do more stimulus.”
There is, however, a “kernel of truth” to the interpretation, Scheiber said, explaining that he believes, as many of the administration’s critics do, that Obama should have focused on more economic stimulus before moving to health care. The administration’s plan was to finish up the bill by the fall of 2009 and then return to the economy for a second stimulus — that prospect was quashed by the time the bill was finally enacted in March 2010. A Romney spokesperson, reached for comment, noted that in the book, Obama’s top adviser Larry Summers says he would have supported the health care bill anyway because of its historical import.
More broadly, Obama’s aides at the time did not believe the push would inhibit future economic stimulus, let alone that the bill itself would negatively impact the economy.
“So they’re clearly misrepresenting something that I wrote,” Scheiber said, pointing out that Romney has made a similar claim before and he has corrected the record. “By this point they’re clearly aware that they’re not capturing the full nuance of the argument. … I think it’s hard to believe that he’s not aware of it or the campaign’s not aware of it.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.