WASHINGTON — Accusing his rival of a failure of "tragic proportion," Republican Mitt Romney charged Thursday that the nation under President Barack Obama has failed to keep its "moral commitment to help every American help himself."
Casting the need to fix the U.S. economy as a moral imperative — but without offering any new proposals — Romney said free enterprise ideas and less government intrusion would help spur a rebound.
"It has become clear that this president simply doesn't understand or appreciate these fundamental truths of our economic system. Over the last three and a half years, record numbers of Americans have lost their jobs or just disappeared from the workforce or could only find part-time jobs," Romney said, reading from a teleprompter. "Record numbers of Americans are living in poverty today — over 46 million people in this country, living below the poverty line."
That, he said, was unacceptable.
"This is not just a failure of policy. It is a moral failure of tragic proportion. Our government has a moral commitment to help every American help himself," the likely Republican presidential nominee said to applause at a Missouri business that builds military tents. "And that commitment has been broken."
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said Romney delivered a "dishonest" speech that offered no new ideas to help the economy.
"Mitt Romney has promised to use his experience to turn around the economy, but all he has offered to date are negative and dishonest speeches tearing down President Obama," Smith said.
Romney is correct when he refers to the absolute number of 46 million people living in poverty. The Census Bureau reported last September that the ranks of the nation's poor had swelled to a record 46.2 million, or nearly 1 in 6 Americans, as a result of the economic downturn that left millions of people struggling or without jobs and turning to the government for assistance.
Many of the job losses, however, occurred before Obama took office or in the early months of his administration and before his economic policies could be put into place.
Romney also didn't lay out any proposals to help those in poverty. Instead, he said an economy with fewer regulations would add jobs more quickly than the mere 69,000 that were added in May. Since averaging a healthy 252,000 jobs a month from December through February, job growth has slowed to a lackluster average of 96,000 a month. Romney blamed the man he expects to face in the Nov. 6 election.
"President Obama's vision is very different and deeply flawed. ... There is nothing morally right about trying to turn government dependence into a substitute for the dignity of hard work," he said.
Unemployment rose to 8.2 in May, up from 8.1 the previous month, and stands to be a drag on Obama's re-election bid. While the economy has improved since Obama took office in January 2009, recent economic reports provide little reason to celebrate. Romney has been dogged about blaming Obama for the economy although instant turnarounds are impossible and factors beyond a president's control often come into play.
"You see, for three and a half years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He's put us deeper in debt. He's slowed the recovery, harmed the economy," Romney said. "And he has attacked the cornerstone of American prosperity: our economic freedom."