As a result, it is Obama’s surrogates (most notably former president Bill Clinton) and not the president himself warning that Romney’s proposals to slash spending and cut taxes could extinguish the recovery much like Europe’s austerity measures are doing there.
Romney, meanwhile, is operating under no such constraints. In nearly every speech, the former Massachusetts governor accuses Obama of following Europe down the path of high debt and fiscal insolvency. “Did you see the numbers in Spain? Twenty-five percent unemployed,” Romney declared at a rally in Weatherly, Pa., Saturday. “You know what’s happening in Greece, with low wage growth? That’s where the policies of Europe lead. I don’t believe Europe works in Europe. I don’t want it here.”
Although talk of the European economy is widely expected to dominate the G-20 summit, Obama is also scheduled to hold one-on-one talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting with Putin will be closely watched in part because it comes just days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Russia of causing a “dramatic escalation” of the crisis in Syria by shipping helicopters to the regime there.
Although pro-Europe parties won a slim victory in Sunday’s elections in Greece, the uncertainty over Europe has prompted discussion of contingency plans in the event a global economic crisis arises.
Lael Brainard, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, declined to say whether the United States had prepared such a contingency plan when asked about it at the White House briefing Friday.
“The president recognized very early on that we needed to help insulate our economy, we needed to provide an insurance policy, that our recovery was still quite vulnerable to head winds from Europe,” Brainard said.
Few expect concrete actions or plans to emerge from the summit; rather, the expectation is that European leaders will begin discussing what they hope to achieve at their own summit at the end of the month.
The Obama administration hopes to continue pushing European leaders toward more government spending as a way to revive their economies, an effort that began at a Group of Eight summit last month at Camp David. The White House announced, with some fanfare after that summit, that European leaders had tentatively agreed that a growth agenda, rather than strict fiscal austerity, was the right path to prosperity. Since then, however, Merkel has signaled that Germany alone cannot bail out Europe, raising doubts about her intentions.
The United States can offer European leaders cover as it pushes them to take steps similar to what this country’s leaders did in 2008 and 2009 to avert a far deeper downturn.
“People know we’re the largest economy in the world, the market most important to the world,” said Goodman, the economist. “Our experience is valuable. What we can do is provide a little air cover to the Europeans as they try to deal with difficult domestic political choices.”
He added: “The European Union is, as a whole, the largest economy in the world, so there is a huge risk if Europe goes into crisis or has negative growth, and there look like strong prospects for that. At minimum, the president has an interest in getting the Europeans to address that.”
Staff writers David Nakamura and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.