Byron York, the chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner, is amplifying Mitt Romney's discredited allegation that President Obama knowingly slowed down the economic recovery because he favored health care reform.
This Romney falsehood is based on a distortion of comments reported in the book The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery, by The New Republic's Noam Scheiber. The actual comments make clear that the White House has always rejected the dubious claim that it could not focus on economic recovery and health care reform at the same time.
Under the headline “Romney: Obama slowed recovery to push Obamacare,” York declared:
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.”
Romney's claim that Obama “knowingly slowed down the recovery” is based on a misreading of The Escape Artists. As documented by Talking Points Memo, Romney claimed:
A book that was written in a way that's apparently pro-President Obama, was written by a guy named Noam Scheiber and in this book he says that there was a discussion about the fact that Obamacare would slow down the economic recovery in this country and they knew that before they passed it. But they concluded that we would all forget how long the recovery took once it had happened, so they decided to go ahead. The idea that they knowingly slowed down our recovery in order to put in place Obamacare, which they wanted and they considered historic but the American people did not want or consider historic, is something which I think deserves a lot of explaining, because I think the President's responsibility is to put people back to work. To get people out of poverty and to help people have good jobs and have prospects for a brighter tomorrow.
Romney's claim, that Scheiber's book proves that the Obama administration knowingly slowed the economic recovery, is false.
As New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait detailed when Romney first started leveling the accusation, the comments in the book are attributed to former White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who made it perfectly clear that he did not think that passing the Affordable Care Act would slow the economic recovery:
The passage cited by Romney as evidence that Obama willingly chose to “make life harder for the American people” is an interview with Larry Summers:
“I always admired the president's courage for recognizing that 50 years from now, people would remember that all Americans had health care,” Larry Summers later said in an interview. “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.”
As you might notice from the phrase “even if,” Summers denied that health-care reform affected the pace of the recession. That is, he was claiming the opposite of the position imputed to him by Romney.
Chait went on to note additional comments from Summers that made it clear that the administration did not choose health care reform over economic growth.
Scheiber himself has said that Romney has been “misrepresenting Summers and the administration” with this claim. In comments cited by York to prop up Romney's false accusation, Scheiber also claimed that the White House could have given more attention to the recovery had it decided not to pursue health care reform. Scheiber's analysis has nothing whatsoever to do with Romney's central accusation -- that the administration knowingly slowed down the recovery, an accusation that falls apart given Summers' actual words.
Romney's statement, now amplified by the right-wing media infrastructure, is a flat out mischaracterization, and the media have a responsibility to make that clear.