Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made a campaign swing through New Hampshire on Monday, discussing jobs and the economy with a couple of hundred Lincoln Financial Group employees in Concord.
Employees in the packed company cafeteria, which has hosted numerous presidential aspirants in years past, peppered the candidate with questions about entitlements, employee benefits, what the candidate’s real job creation record was, and how the nation can work to depolarize its political system.
Romney opened with a seven-minute stump speech, cracking jokes and talking about the weather, and then focused on a sharp critique of the incumbent, calling President Barack Obama a "nice guy" and "a good speaker" but someone few people knew a lot about before he ran, who had limited private sector job experience. He also stated that Obama had "failed" in fixing the nation's ills.
“The Obama Administration has not been able to deal with the number one issue the country was concerned about when he became president, the economy,” he said. “He did not cause the recession, but he made it worse.”
Instead of focusing on the economy, Romney said Obama created “more uncertainty,” by proposing to end the Bush tax cuts on investment profits, pushed a cap-and-trade proposal that Romney said would harm businesses, and filled the National Labor Relations Board with “union stooges.”
Obama also created a federal takeover of health care, instead of allowing states to handle the issue, and filled his cabinet with people who had little to no private sector experience, according to Romney. Romney noted that in February 2009, Obama went on “The Today Show” and said if he couldn’t get the country turned around, his presidency would be a single-term.
“I agree, it’s a one-term proposition,” Romney said.
Romney took questions from employees at Lincoln Financial and a few residents who were allowed to attend the event.
One employee asked Romney what he could do to end the polarization of politics in the United States. The candidate said he was able to work with an overwhelmingly Democratically-controlled Legislature in Massachusetts on a number of issues, including not raising taxes, balancing the budget every year during his term, rebuilding the state’s rainy day fund, and creating a charter school program.
“There are people, Republicans and Democrats, who love America,” he said. “[We shouldn’t] give up our principles but we should work together."
"I worked with Ted Kennedy," Romney said, to laughter, "The key is finding common ground.”
Another employee asked about regulation and whether or not the lack of regulation brought on the economic collapse.
Romney said he was not a “no regulation” candidate adding that it was important to strip out older regulations and replace them with more modernized systems. He said the economy needed some kinds of regulation to set the rules, in order to function properly.
“Do you really want to have people opening banks in their garage?,” he asked.
However, he blamed the decline on government regulators who were “asleep at the switch” and weren’t watching the mortgage system. He said regulators and politicians were awarding mortgages to people who had no way of paying them back. The government was doing the exact opposite of what it should have been doing, Romney said.
“Government was one of the major contributors of the collapse,” he said. “Government was at fault; I don’t know if you need more government in place. I’d like to see people in government who understand how the economy works.”
Margie Welch, a retiree, said she was concerned that Social Security benefits had been frozen for two years. She was upset about the money being used for other government functions. How are you going to handle this?, she asked.
Romney said the big secret is that for decades the money that has been collected for Social Security has been spent on other things. The so-called trust fund, he said, had been emptied and loaned to the government.
“[Entitlement programs] aren’t literally bankrupt,” he said, “You’re just fine … the real question is, How about the people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s? Ahhh … they’re not so fine.”
Romney called for “an honest discussion” about the promises the country has made to young people who will be burdened with $62 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities they will never be able to pay. Broken down, it amounts to $532,000, per household, he said.
“It’s impossible to carry that burden,” he said.
Another employee asked about whether or not Romney actually created jobs or destroyed them when he was working in the private sector.
Romney said Bain started and financed a number of businesses and altogether, the company helped create tens of thousands of jobs. He said some of the companies were collapsing at the time that Bain became involved in them.
“Sometimes you have to carry out surgery to save them and turn them around,” he said. “So they can start creating jobs again. Net-net? We added a lot of jobs and saved a lot of businesses. But not every case was successful.”
While everyone at Lincoln Financial seemed to be secure in their employment, “good paying jobs” is a major concern for people right now.
Laura Upton, a recent hire at Lincoln Financial, called Romney “well-spoken” and said she felt he answered the questions from her co-workers open and honestly and was aware of the issues facing people in Concord.
“I was impressed that he actually answered the questions,” she said after the event. “He didn’t skirt around the answers … a lot of them skirt around the answers.”