Romney Twists `You Didn’t Build That’ Remark: Reality Check

Bloomberg Insider Cover Tuesday
Bloomberg Insider Cover Tuesday, August 28, 2012 Photo Illustration: Bloomberg

In the heat of the presidential campaign, both sides have made statements that don’t square with reality. Here’s a look at some claims compared with the facts.

’You Didn’t Build That’

The Claim: Mitt Romney’s campaign says President Barack Obama denigrated entrepreneurs with a campaign-trail comment, “You didn’t build that,” suggesting they can’t claim credit for their businesses.

Romney accuses Obama of “attacking success” and trying to “diminish the achievement of the individual.”

The Background: Romney has argued throughout the campaign that Obama fails to understand the realities of the economy. The theme of the Republican convention tonight will be, “We Built It.”

A Romney ad features a New Hampshire metal-shop owner challenging Obama: “Through hard work and a little bit of luck, we built this business,” he says. “Why are you demonizing us for it?”

The Facts: The Romney campaign is twisting Obama’s words. It is clear from the context that Obama was arguing that government services such as infrastructure and education provide an essential foundation for building successful businesses. He wasn’t denying entrepreneurs credit. Here is what he said:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

“The point is,” he continued “that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Obama’s Abortion Assertion

The Claim: The Obama campaign released a video saying Romney supports legislation “that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.”

The Background: Obama leads Romney among women in national polls. The president appeals for their votes by emphasizing Republican opposition to abortion and highlighting provisions of the health-care law that guarantee access to contraceptives.

The Facts: Romney would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. His running mate, though, has co-sponsored legislation with no such exception, and the Republican Party appears ready to adopt a platform without it.

The Obama campaign bases its assertion on a 2007 CNN debate in which Romney was asked by moderator Anderson Cooper if Congress “passed a federal ban on all abortions and it came to your desk, would you sign it, yes or no?” Romney said, if there was a national consensus, he’d “be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where we are.” Obama's campaign also says Romney has supported laws that define life as beginning at conception.

Romney’s definitive statement on abortion came in “My Pro-Life Pledge,” which he wrote for National Review online in 2011. He said, “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”

Romney on Obama and Welfare

The Claim: Romney says in an advertisement that Obama gutted a Clinton-era welfare overhaul by dumping the requirement that states make recipients get jobs. “You wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” the ad says.

Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said at a Bloomberg breakfast yesterday that Obama’s plan is “bad policy.”

The Background: Democrat Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 enacted the law that imposed time limits and work rules on welfare recipients. The changes meant the program was no longer an open-ended entitlement available for as long as recipients were in need. States must enforce federally defined work activities and can lose money if they fall short.

The Facts: The Romney ad isn’t true. Under the Obama plan, the Department of Health and Human Services would give states waivers if they have better proposals for getting people back to work -- the opposite of getting rid of the work requirement. To get a waiver, the administration says a state must offer plans to increase the number of people going from welfare to work by 20 percent.

Republican governors in Utah and Nevada sought more flexibility to experiment with ways to get people back on payrolls. Romney in 2005 joined 28 other governors asking Congress for more latitude to run the program, and two years later the National Governors Association said rules tied to the program were burdensome.

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