In an appearance in Texas Wednesday, Mitt Romney charged that President Obama "knowingly slowed down the recovery in this country…in order to put in place Obamacare." The president's action, Romney said, "deserves a lot of explaining."
Speaking to an audience at USAA, an insurance and financial services company headquartered in San Antonio, Romney cited a book, "The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery," by the liberal journalist Noam Scheiber. In the book, Scheiber discussed Obama's thinking on the question of whether, early in his term, to focus more attention on passing a national health care law or to devote more energy to bringing about economic recovery. As Scheiber put it, Obama saw health care as a bigger long-term accomplishment. "There was a strain of messianism in Barack Obama, a determination to change the course of history," Scheiber wrote. "And it was this determination that explained his reluctance to abandon his presidential vision." So health care it was.
"I always admired the president's courage for recognizing that fifty years from now people would remember that all Americans had health care," former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers told Scheiber. "And even if pursuing health care affected the pace of the recovery, which was unlikely in my view, people wouldn't remember how fast the recovery from this recession was."
A few weeks ago, Romney began putting a reference to Scheiber's book into some of his speeches. Today, Romney signaled that he'll make the accusation -- that Obama neglected the recovery to work on Obamacare -- part of his larger case against the president.
Scheiber recently wrote that Romney is "misreading" his book. But Scheiber's explanation essentially conceded that Romney is, in fact, reading the passage correctly. 'While he's definitely misrepresenting Summers and the administration, there's a kernel of truth to his interpretation of my book," Scheiber wrote. "I argue that Obama really was more focused on long-term, historically significant accomplishments than marginal, near-term differences in the pace of the recovery. On some level, Obama was prepared to accept (and I'm making up these numbers for argument's sake) three years of painfully high unemployment with health care reform rather than 30 months of painfully high unemployment without it. And the reason is the one Summers alluded to (before disputing): Health care was simply more historically important than avoiding those extra six months of pain."
The bottom line: On Obama's priority list, passing Obamacare ranked higher than economic recovery. Mitt Romney is likely to talk about that a lot more as the campaign goes on.
UPDATE: Shortly after this was posted, the Obama campaign hit back with an email headlined "Romney's Priority Has Never Been Job Creation." "In Texas today, Mitt Romney…said that his priority as president would be job creation," spokeswoman Lis Smith wrote, "but we know that that wasn't his priority either as a corporate buyout specialist or during his time as governor. In Massachusetts, he promised to create jobs, but during his four years as governor, the state ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation."
The Obama campaign also released a statement headlined, "Romney Repeats Dishonest Claim About Summers' View of Health Care Reform." "Mitt Romney continues to be willfully dishonest in claiming that Larry Summers believed President Obama pursued health care reform at the expense of a speedy economic recovery," the statement said. "Noam Scheiber, the author of the book Romney cited, has said himself that the claim Romney repeated in Texas today is misleading."