Joe Biden didn’t mince words when he talked about Mitt Romney in Iowa yesterday. He blatantly accused the former Massachusetts governor of killing jobs.
“When he was governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature that would have stopped the state from outsourcing contracts overseas,” Biden said in Davenport, Iowa. “That resulted in millions of dollars flowing to companies running call centers in India.”
“Massachusetts was losing manufacturing jobs twice as fast as the rest of the country while Governor Romney was in charge,” Biden continued. “The thirdworst rate in the country.”
Biden is not factually inaccurate in either charge, but in both cases he omits the context. It is true that Romney vetoed legislation in 2004 that would have prohibited Massachusetts government officials from giving contracts to companies that would outsource some or all of the work to foreign employees. However, the type of work that was being outsourced is not a big part of the Massachusetts economy.
“The legislation I vetoed was not designed to do anything for Massachusetts employers,” Romney told the Boston Globe in defense of his veto. “It might help ‘call center’ states, but it didn’t necessarily protect a single job here.”
“But,” he added, “it had the potential of costing our citizens a lot more money.”
It wasn’t just Romney who viewed the legislation as a bad way to tackle outsourcing. “Another section that would discourage the state from doing business with companies that outsource work to foreign countries should be vetoed,” the Globe, not known for its conservative beliefs, argued. “The state contracting process is a poor tool to address globalization.” Jim Stergios, who was a member of Romney’s administration and is now executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a right-leaning Massachusetts think tank, argues that the veto was a win for taxpayers: “As regards government services, the governor always wanted to make sure we had the best value for Massachusetts taxpayers,” he says.
On the manufacturing-jobs front, if the past is any indicator of the future, Romney can expect a long and sustained attack from Democrats. Biden is hardly the first one to pound Romney on the issue. “Not surprisingly, on his watch the state’s manufacturing declined by twice the national average, the third-worst record in the country,” wrote Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, in a memo earlier this month.
“Under Mitt Romney, that state declined in manufacturing at twice the national average,” said Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, on MSNBC in January.
The number of manufacturing jobs did shrink during Romney’s tenure, according to a Northeastern University study, which found that from 2002 to 2006 manufacturing jobs decreased 14 percent in the Bay State — compared with 7 percent nationwide.
But that was nothing new in Massachusetts, which has been hemorrhaging these jobs for decades. From 1985 to 2000, the number of manufacturing jobs went from 657,000 to 408,000, according to a paper prepared by Northeastern for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. From 2000 to 2005 (Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007), another 103,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. In January of 2007, when Romney left office, there were 297,000 manufacturing jobs. Current Democratic governor Deval Patrick hasn’t been able to halt the trend: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ January report (the most recent available), there were only 255,000 manufacturing jobs left.
“The fact of the matter is it’s very difficult to do manufacturing in Massachusetts because we are a high-cost state from a regulatory perspective, and we have to pay people higher wages because we’re a more educated population,” argues Stergios. “That makes it a lot harder to be in small-margin manufacturing sectors.” Stergios adds that Romney took certain steps — such as refusing to sign cap-and-trade legislation — with an eye to not making electricity any more expensive for manufacturers.
For now, the Romney campaign is brushing off Biden’s criticisms, pointing instead to President Obama’s dismal record on jobs.
“Vice President Biden is part of an administration that has done more to devastate the middle class than any in modern history,” said Romney spokesperson Amanda Henneberg in a statement. “Under President Obama’s leadership, over 800,000 fewer Americans have a job, home prices have plummeted, and gas prices have hit record highs. With that kind of record, it’s no surprise that the Obama White House has taken to attacking a proven job creator like Mitt Romney.”