WASHINGTON -- In an interview with a local Virginia television station on Sunday, Mitt Romney went further than normal in criticizing the president's handling of the economy, saying that he doesn't deserve credit for stemming the bleeding he inherited from his predecessor.
"There has never been a recession that went on forever. There has never been a depression that went on forever," Romney told WVEC News. "A recession occurs, the economy goes down, and then comes after recession, the recovery. That's happened since the beginning of time. The president wants to say, well, he stopped the recession from going further. Well, frankly, the recession came to an end and we are waiting for the president to get us to where he said he'd get us, which is 5.4 percent unemployment. And he hasn't been able to do it because of the policies he's put in place."
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This is a variation of the attack line that Romney's campaign traditionally deploys, in that it's more explicit than usual in its unwillingness to give the president any due for slowing the rate of job loss that he inherited upon taking office. The country was shedding between 700,000 and 800,000 jobs a month in the winter of 2008 and 2009. By early spring and summer of 2009 -- shortly after the stimulus passed -- that number was reduced to the 300,000 to 400,000 range; by the summer, it was in the 100,000 to 200,000 range; by the fall it was in the 0 to 100,000 range; and shortly after, the country started producing a net gain of jobs on a monthly basis.
"Mr. Romney is correct that recessions always do end, but their severity and duration vary," former Obama Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag said in an email to The Huffington Post. "The relevant question is therefore whether you can cushion the blow, and the evidence (including cross-state comparisons) strongly suggests that the Recovery Act did exactly that."
Romney, certainly, has been more generous with respect to the stimulus in the past. He himself argued in favor of stimulus at the time of the recession. And while his stimulus plan was half the cost of President Obama's and built almost exclusively on long-term tax rate reductions, the mere fact that he pitched a plan suggests that he too believes the government has a role in buffering against a recession. Finally, both Obama and Romney supported the Trouble Asset Relief Program, on grounds that injecting capital into the financial markets would, in turn, prevent the recession from turning into a global economic meltdown.
Asked for comment, however, the Obama campaign focused primarily on the Recovery Act.
“Because of the President’s decisive actions and smart investments, businesses have added 4.6 million private sector jobs over the past 30 months, the American auto industry is back, and American manufacturers are adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "And every step of the way, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Republicans in Congress have opposed him and served to slow the jobs recovery because they thought it would help them politically. Now, they’re promising to bring back the same failed policies that devastated the middle class and crashed the economy in the first place. Americans can’t afford to go back.”