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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pro-Romney Super PAC Twists Obama’s Words

A pro-Romney TV ad shows President Obama saying, “we tried our plan and it worked.” That twists his words way out of context. He was referring to his proposal to cut the deficit using both tax increases and spending cuts, like President Clinton. Obama wasn’t talking about past job creation efforts, as the ad would have viewers believe.

Restore Our Future, a super PAC founded by former Mitt Romney campaign staffers, went up with its new ad on Aug. 12. The ad, titled “Another Month,” is about Obama’s record on job creation. It starts by flashing headlines about the unemployment rate rising in July to 8.3 percent and asks, “If you had President Obama’s record, what would you do?”

It then features three video clips of Obama purportedly talking about his efforts to create jobs. But one of the clips is taken out of context — which isn’t the first time the president’s words have been twisted and used against him in a TV ad.

The latest ad says that Obama’s words — “we tried our plan and it worked” — “deny reality.”

It’s true that the president uttered those words in a July 23 speech in Oakland, Calif. But what did the president mean by “our plan”? He was talking about his proposed deficit-reduction plan, not his past economic plan, and about the general Democratic approach to taxes — as exemplified by Clinton’s 1993 tax hikes.

It is clear from that July 23 speech — and several others just like it — that the president was contrasting the tax proposals offered this campaign season by himself and his Republican rival. In his speech, Obama claims Romney will “gut” federal investments to “things like education and research” to “give more tax breaks to millionaires,” while the president will “cut out government spending that’s not working,” and raise taxes on those who earn more than $250,000.

The president says he wants to return the tax rates to what they were under Clinton.

Obama, July 23: I’m running because I believe you can’t reduce the deficit — which is a serious problem, we’ve got to deal with it — but we can’t reduce it without asking folks like me who have been incredibly blessed to give up the tax cuts that we’ve been getting for a decade. (Applause.) I’ll cut out government spending that’s not working, that we can’t afford, but I’m also going to ask anybody making over $250,000 a year to go back to the tax rates they were paying under Bill Clinton, back when our economy created 23 million new jobs — (applause) — the biggest budget surplus in history and everybody did well.

Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. (Applause.) That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.

This is one of the president’s favorite talking points at campaign events. Obama frequently uses Clinton as an example of why his tax plan can work (which is certainly debatable, but that issue is not raised in this TV ad).

In a 1993 omnibus budget bill, Clinton proposed a host of tax changes, including higher marginal income tax rates. The bill passed without the support of a single House Republican, and required Vice President Al Gore to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. On Aug. 10, 1993, Clinton signed the bill into law, which, among other things, raised the top rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent.

Rates were lowered twice under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003. The top rate is currently 35 percent.

On the campaign trail, Obama makes the case for his tax plan by claiming that the economy flourished after Clinton raised taxes. As we have written before, the federal government did have a surplus for four years under Clinton as a result of the tax hikes, spending restraints and a booming economy fueled by the so-called dot-com bubble.

We found numerous examples where the president says Clinton’s tax plan worked — which is what Obama meant in his July 23 speech.

Obama, Aug. 8: And, by the way, just like we tested their plan under the previous administration and it didn’t work, we’ve tested my plan because, as you’ll recall, under Bill Clinton, when those taxes were a little bit higher on folks like me, the economy grew faster than it has in years — 23 million new jobs. (Applause.) We went from a deficit to a surplus. (Applause.) And folks at the top did well. We created a lot of millionaires to boot.

Obama, July 24: And, by the way, let me just point out that the approach that I’m talking about has also been tested. Just like their theories have been tested and didn’t work, my theories have been tested. The last time they were tried was by a guy named Bill Clinton. (Applause.) And we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficits to surplus, and we created a lot of millionaires to boot. (Laughter.) The well-off did well because they had a lot of customers. (Laughter.)

Obama, July 17: What I’ve said is — I told Congress last week, let’s go ahead and say everybody who’s making $250,000 a year or less, your income taxes will not go up one dime, period. (Applause.) That includes 98 percent of Americans, 97 percent of small businesses. (Applause.) But for folks like me, we can afford to do a little bit more to make sure we are investing in America’s future.

And by the way, we tried that too, Austin. A guy named Bill Clinton tried it, and we took deficits and turned them into surpluses, created 23 million new jobs. (Applause.) And by the way, wealthy people did really well also — because, again, if folks in the middle class are doing well, everybody does well.

The ad also criticizes “Obama’s allies” for a “dishonest attack,” a reference to a controversial TV ad by the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action that links the death of a steelworker’s wife from cancer, to the closing of a plant owned at the time by Romney’s company, Bain Capital.

That ad had been condemned in a Chicago Tribune editorial as “shameful,” as duly noted by Restore Our Future. We, too, found that ad misleading. But, then again, so is this new ad by Romney’s allies.

— Eugene Kiely