Mitt Romney is advancing a new — mostly ahistorical — reason voters should throw President Obama out of office: A Democratic Congress gave Obama everything he wanted and he still failed to turn the economy around.
“I do believe that people of this country are looking for someone who can get the country growing again with more jobs and more take-home pay, and I think they realize this president had four years to do that,” Romney told Politico in an interview published Monday. “He got every piece of legislation he wanted passed, and it didn’t work. I think they want someone who has a different record, and I do.”
This argument is a variation on a similar attack Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) first introduced several months ago. It serves two goals: first, it places the blame for the persistently weak recovery entirely on Obama, and it discredits the liberal-leaning ideas that underlay his policy approach. With the Republican convention beginning in earnest on Tuesday, it’s an argument the party is pushing to a nationwide audience ahead of the November election.
Rep. Paul Ryan used a similar line about Obama in his first speech as Romney’s running mate earlier this month. “And, in his first 2 years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda,” he said. “But that didn’t make things better.”
The argument obscures the important policy-making role Republicans had in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when they used a record number of filibusters in the Senate to weaken — and in some cases thwart — large pieces of his agenda.
The $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, which was ultimately too small to fully reverse the economic downturn, had to be scaled down because a GOP filibuster required Democrats to win over 60 Senate votes for final passage. Repeated filibusters on health care reform ate up nearly a year of the Democrats’ legislative time, and Obama’s subsequent efforts to boost the economy were met with the same wall of Republican opposition — one that became insurmountable after the GOP’s congressional victories in 2010.
Progressives argue that the economy continues to struggle in part because Republicans have blocked Obama’s efforts, and advanced an agenda in 2011 and 2012 that effectively — if not intentionally — sabotaged the recovery. Some liberals have, however, criticized Obama for, among other things, failing to fight for a larger stimulus bill and for myopically pursuing health care reform while the economy remained weak.
Republicans, by contrast, say the problem wasn’t that Obama’s proposals were meaty enough — they insist that his entire approach of using government power to help fix the economy was wrong. It’s an argument that, if successful, will help Republicans defeat the President and simultaneously bolster their public case for undoing Obama’s legislative achievements.
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.