Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the University… (Steven Senne / Associated…)
Reporting from Chicago —
Mitt Romney, faced with an economy that appears to be brightening a little each day the general election draws closer, is casting President Obama as a free-market antagonist bent on building a massive bureaucracy that has slowed the recovery and stunted the economy.
On Monday, the front-runner in the Republican presidential primaries, accepted an opportunity that allowed him to highlight his argument in Obama’s front yard, the University of Chicago, where the president was once a law professor. Romney, who traded his campaign-trail jeans for a business suit and tie, spoke from a stage bedecked with a half-dozen American flags and two prompter screens, which he used to read his prepared speech.
“This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small,” Romney told an auditorium filled with students. “The truth is this economy’s struggling because our government is too big, too intrusive, too invasive of our economic freedoms.”
Romney made millions of dollars as the head of a private equity firm that bought and sold companies, sometimes shutting them down and laying off workers after having taken hefty management fees. He has staked much of his campaign on his reputation for knowing how to build businesses and create jobs. He argued that the president is stifling both.
“The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid –- and why it couldn’t meet their expectations, let alone ours,” Romney said. “If we don't change course now, the assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come.”
The former Massachusetts governor cited the Obama administration’s plan to raise taxes and its imposition of new regulations, in particular, those tied to Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform legislation passed in 2010 and intended to curtail practices that contributed to the recession.
“It’s an 848-page behemoth that’s going to be followed by thousands and thousands of pages of new regulations,” he said. “Now, of course, regulations are necessary. But burdensome regulations serve only to restrict freedom and therefore imperil enterprise.”
As he has in speeches on the campaign trail, he blamed “unelected, unaccountable regulators” for preventing drilling for oil and natural gas, and blocking coal mining. He did not refer to the secretaries of the energy and the interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator as the “gas-hike trio,” a sobriquet he has applied to them as he campaigned throughout Illinois, which holds its primary on Tuesday. With the economic news improving, but gas prices climbing, he has blamed Obama for the rising prices.
The president has mounted an aggressive defense of his energy policy, saying oil production is the highest it has been in eight years and deriding Republicans for playing politics. He will travel Thursday to the crucial swing state of Ohio to give another speech on energy. “They start acting like we’ve got a magic wand, and we will give you cheap gas forever if you just elect us,” Obama said in a recent speech. “Been the same script for 30 years. It's like a bad rerun.”
Romney focused much of his speech on a standard Republican refrain, arguing that Obama has enacted job-killing regulations that stymie innovation. “Government does not create prosperity; free markets and free people create prosperity,” he said. “The president has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He’s put us deeper in debt. He’s slowed the recovery and he’s harmed the economy. And I believe he has attacked the cornerstone of American prosperity: economic freedom.”
Noting that Obama recently cited the inventive genius of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, he even joked that the president’s administration would have hamstrung them. “A regulator would have shut down the Wright brothers for their ‘dust pollution,’” he said. “And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, they just did.”
With Romney delivering his economic message from a stage at the university where Obama taught in the city where his campaign is based, Obama advisors held a conference call with reporters to dismiss the address as nothing new and devoid of important details.
“I think what we heard was another over-hyped speech from Gov. Romney that was filled with lofty rhetoric, but no new policy ideas and no explanations about the policies that he has already proposed,” said the president’s campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt.
LaBolt said the Republican Party has failed to offer a detailed jobs plan to help the middle class. “I think you’ve seen them rush to embrace the tea party economic policies that led us into the economic crisis in the first place,” he said, suggesting that led Romney to avoid specifics.
James Kvaal, the campaign’s policy director, also dismissed Romney’s contention that getting government out of the way by cutting taxes, spending and regulations would spur job creation. “Efforts to cut our way to prosperity have been tried in the past, and Gov. Romney’s vision represents a return to those policies that have failed before,” he said.
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Mitt Romney presents economic vision at University of Chicago