Romney: Americans “fearful but not panicked” (audio)

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney walked into a crowded conference room at Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella early this afternoon.  He’s meeting with about a dozen business executives.

“What I’m really looking for your advice, if I were fortunate enough to be president of the United States, what you think we could do…in Washington to help the private sector be more competitive.”

Below is a live blog of the roundtable. Romney had a 10 minute news conference later in Pella

Romney then offered this temperature reading of the public, saying Americans are “fearful but not paniced” about the economy, “discouraged, but not so frightened that they can’t move forward. But they want to see America get on track again.”

A local banker told Romney he was concerned about the credit crunch. Romney said he hears from small businesses “time and time again” about the shrinking availability of credit.

Another businessman amplified on that point, adding the government was conducting a “total frontal assault on business.”

Romney responded, accusing the Obama Administration of being “anti-business” and “anti-job.”  Romney said Obama Administration actions create “uncertainty and lack of clarity which is essential in a growing economy.”

Another participant advocated for special tax treatment for subchapter S corporations.  Romney responded, saying businesses can deal with bad news, but he argued businesses cannot deal with “high levels of uncertainty” about regulations and taxes.

The next speaker is from the host company, Vermeer, who expressed concerns about the status of US trade agreements.  Romney began by saying expanded trade was crucial in adding jobs to the American economy. He blasted the Obama administration for failing to strike more trade deals. “We’ve got to be far more aggressive in saying we want to trade with other nations,” Romney said. He accused “some union bosses” of resisting trade deals to “protect their own status” and Romney suggested that was fool-hardy (my word to summarize, not his) as he argued “developed nations…remain prosperous” and fully-employed by trading with other countries.

The next participant talked about energy policy.  Ronney said he “can’t understand how some think renewables are the only answer.” He talked about natural gas, in particular.  “A comprehensive energy policy which uses all our energy resources” will boost the economy, according to Romney.

The next executive raised the topic of health care reform; he advocated health care savings accounts “rather than a government mandated system.”

“I think you’re right, by the way,” Romney began, offering:  “My own view…is the intent is to ultimately replace private insurers” with a single-payer/government-run health care system.

The next executive is Diane Crookham-Johnson of Musco Lighting.  “We haven’t had a down year yet, knock on wood,” she said. “…But it’s not because of the U.S. market. It’s what we’ve been able to do internationally.”  She also expressed concern “about some of the rhetoric we hear” about China, saying there are “a lot of good people” in China who are buying Musco’s products.

Romney said he wants the U.S. to do business with people everywhere, but he added “China, in my opinion, has been te worst offender of honoring their agreements.” Romney said the Chinese must be held accountable for violating patents.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where our technology is taken without compensation,” Romney said.

The next executive ended his remarks by asking for action from congress and the president — any action — on dealing with the government’s debt and deficits. He even expressed support for tax hikes, if necessary to resolve it.  “I really don’t care which one.  Just do one…and get it behind us…It’s just a huge, huge distraction,” he said.

The next person said Washington was “not in touch” with the business world. “Wouldn’t it be nice if people in Washington had spent a good part of their career in the real economy?” Romney said. “…And if that’s the case, I’m in.”

The next person, who works in the health care industry, assailed ObamaCare. “They want government to run health care and the government’s record running anything,” he said, with Romney chiming in with “not real good” to cap that sentence.

The final executive, also from Vermeer, hammered away at trade agreements with Korea and Panama in particular before launching into a discussion of the importance of manufacturing.  Romney cited a statistic that the added costs for US manufacturers are 17.5 percent (for health care, taxes, regulation compliance).  He said that “moves jobs away from this country and I look to eliminating an extraordinary disadvantage” for U.S. manufacturing.

Romney said he had a seven-point plan: cut tax rates for employers, to be competitive with other nations; streamline regulations and the bureaucracy to encourage rather than punish free enterprise; expand trade; expand US energy exploration; pass more right-to-work laws (at the state level); bringing in the best and brightest into the business world through education and immigration; cutting the U.S. gov’t debt, to bolster the U.S. dollar.

“We have a president that has failed to lead on getting America to stop spending more than it takes in,” Romney said.  Romney suggested the perceptions about the US economy are changing around the world “and we can’t allow that.”

Romney closed by saying: “I imagine you’re going to see more and more of me (in Iowa)…I’d like to do darned well in those Caucuses.”

Event concluded at 1:02 p.m.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.