But Romney employed particularly stinging rhetoric in a sort of campaign “prebuttal,” a day before the president is expected to deliver a major campaign speech in Ohio in which he tries to reframe the economic debate.
Seizing again on Obama’s comment last week that “the private sector is doing fine,” Romney said, “the incredulity that came screaming back from the American people, I think, has caused him to rethink that.”
“I think you’re going to see him change course when he speaks tomorrow, where he will acknowledge that it isn’t going so well, and he’ll be asking for four more years,” Romney continued. “My own view is that he will speak eloquently but that words are cheap, and that the record of an individual is the basis upon which you determine whether they should continue to hold onto their job.”
That there are 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed, Romney said, “is a compelling and a sad statistic. These are real people.”
Romney painted a dire portrait of the U.S. economy under a second Obama term. He warned that Obama would “stifle” energy resources in coal, oil and natural gas, as well as raise the cost of health care through the implementation of “Obamacare,” increase the regulatory burden on businesses and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“I think this election is a watershed reelection, which will determine the relationship between citizen and enterprise and government,” Romney said.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith responded that Romney was “dishonest” in his attacks on the president’s record, saying Obama helped the country create 4.3 million private sector jobs over the last 27 months.
“In another in a long line of ‘major’ economic speeches, Mitt Romney made dishonest after dishonest claim about the president’s record and failed to offer any new ideas of his own on how to improve the economy and strengthen the middle class,” Smith said in a statement.
Romney, himself a former CEO, seemed at ease addressing the members of the Business Roundtable, a lobby organization made up of chief executives. He waved hello to a former consulting colleague from Bain and sprinkled through his speech references to some business titans he had met with recently, including August Busch, the former CEO of Anheuser-Busch.
“Government has to be the partner, the friend, the ally, the supporter of enterprise, not the enemy,” Romney said. “Too often you find yourself facing a government that looks at you like you’re the bad guys, and if you’re hiring people and employing people and paying taxes, you’re the good guys. I want you to do well.”
At times, Romney veered into complexities on policy matters. Discussing the repatriation tax, he said he would like to enable Americans making money in foreign countries to bring their money to the United States without it being taxed.
“If you want to bring your money home, ple-e-e-ease bring it home,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “And I know some people say, yeah, but companies might put it out as dividends. Well, that’s okay, too. I’d rather have you invest it. But give it out to people; give it out to retirees. I mean, what’s happened to the interest rate on their CDs? Get money out there. Let them use that money to buy things.”
Romney even seemed to apologize to the business chiefs over some of the hot rhetoric he has used on the campaign trail to assail the Obama administration’s federal investments in Solyndra and other green energy companies.
“And then finally, something I call crony capitalism — I know that not everyone is happy with my discourse on this, but I don’t think the government should be investing in individual companies to try and promote individual companies,” Romney said.
Romney said he would “halt” all Obama-era regulations — including the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul, which he pledged to repeal in part or in full — as well as balance the federal budget in eight to 10 years and lower corporate and personal-income tax rates.
“I don’t want to raise the individual marginal tax rate from 35 to 40 percent,” Romney said. “I know there are some who think that that’s a great way to go after rich people, and uh, first of all, shame on anybody who thinks we’re going to divide the country based on success.”
That reference drew some CEOs in the audience to nod their heads, but they refrained from any applause until the end of Romney’s 26-minute speech. Then, he took questions from the business leaders — but only after reporters were removed from the banquet room on the top floor of the Newseum.
A Romney campaign spokesman said it was the Business Roundtable, not the campaign, that ordered the question-and-answer session to be closed to the news media.