Mitt Romney offered up a broad philosophical condemnation of President Obama’s handling of the economy Monday in a speech at the University of Chicago. But he once again avoided dwelling on specifics, instead framing a general-election choice between his free-market approach, and Obama’s policies, which he called an “assault on our economic freedom.”
“Instead of expanding the government, I will shrink it,” he told the audience, outlining his own alternative plan. “Instead of raising taxes, I will cut them. Instead of adding more regulations, I will reduce them with an overriding concern: Do they help or do they hurt jobs?”
While Romney’s campaign sent out a press release attacking Rick Santorum’s plan to help the manufacturing sector as a distortion of the free market earlier in the day, he kept his entire speech focused on Obama.
Romney joked, “a regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their ‘dust pollution,’ and the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb.”
He added: “Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that,” referring to a Bush-era law now being implemented that requires higher efficiency standards for light bulbs.
But Obama’s campaign noted afterward that many of Romney’s biggest economic proposals, including a reorganization of Medicare and a 20 percent rate cut for all taxpayers, are still only vague blueprints without any specific numbers attached to them. On the campaign trail, Romney has swung between citing his detailed policy plans and then insisting that it’s impossible to judge them yet, depending on the situation. After an independent analysis of his tax plan concluded it would either blow up the deficit or require tax increases on low-income Americans, Romney responded that it “can’t be scored” until he works out key details with Congress.
“He says his tax plan can’t be scored,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told reporters in a conference call after Romney’s speech. “He hasn’t outlined how he intends to pay for it, he needs to work that out with Congress. So is he going to increase the deficit by $5 trillion, or is he hiding who he want to raise taxes on?”
Romney has been refining his message on the state of the current economy over the last few weeks, as three straight months of strong job growth have boosted optimism among experts that a sustainable recovery may finally be taking hold. After a positive jobs report in February, Romney said, “we welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined,” but insisted “we can do better.” But after the next month showed more employment gains, Romney said on the trail that the president “should go out and talk to the 24 million Americans who are out of work or stopped looking for work or are unemployed” and mocked him for thinking “America is doing better.” On Monday, he softened his tone a bit at a morning event in Illinois, saying, “I believe the economy is coming back, by the way.”
In his economic speech Monday, Romney referred to a “weak recovery” that he said would be in better shape if Obama had followed his advice.
“The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — why it couldn’t meet their projections, let alone our expectations,” Romney said.
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.