Published July 16, 2012
Republicans fired back Monday after President Obama suggested business owners owe their success to government investment, with Mitt Romney's campaign calling the remark "insulting."
The president made the comment Friday during a speech to supporters in Roanoke, Va. Arguing that business owners got help from others along the road to success and suggesting they should pay more in taxes in return, he said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told FoxNews.com on Monday that the remarks "reflect just how unqualified he is to lead us to a real economic recovery."
"They are also insulting to the hardworking entrepreneurs, small-business owners, and job creators who are the backbone of our economy," she said in an email.
The Obama campaign, though, accused the Romney campaign of launching a "false attack" to distract from questions over outsourcing tied to his former company Bain Capital. Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt defended the premise of Obama's comment.
"As President Obama said, those who start businesses succeed because of their individual initiative -- their drive, hard work, and creativity," LaBolt said in a statement. "But there are critical actions we must take to support businesses and encourage new ones -- that means we need the best infrastructure, a good education system, and affordable, domestic sources of clean energy. Those are investments we make not as individuals, but as Americans, and our nation as a whole benefits from them."
Kevin Hassett, an economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Obama's comments are "so far from the current debate," but setting the stage for the administration's tax argument.
"Obama is trying to create the intellectual space to take money away from people. He's trying to say, 'What you do on the playing field would never be possible without the help of the government,'" he said.
Obama's comment Friday came just days after he urged Congress to extend tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration only to families earning less than $250,000 annually -- part of his argument that top earners have an obligation to pay more to trim the deficit.
"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back," the president said. "If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen," he said. "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
Small business owner Debbi Somers, who runs Somers Furniture in Las Vegas, agreed with Obama that "there isn't any way that a small business owner can achieve their dream if they don't have the support of the government."
However, Somers -- who backed Obama in 2008 and now supports Romney -- said the notion that businesses owe their success to government "isn't necessarily true."
"We put in -- we work 80 hours, and we live it, we breathe it, we sleep it," she said.
The National Federation of Independent Business said the president's "unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs."
"I'm sure every small-business owner who took a second mortgage on their home, maxed out their credit cards or borrowed money from their own retirement savings to start their business disagrees strongly with President Obama's claim. They know that hard work does matter," the group also said.
Though Hassett described Obama's comments Friday as "far from the current debate," they were not foreign to Democratic talking points. Elizabeth Warren, an Obama ally running for Senate against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, made similar remarks last year at a campaign stop.
"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own, nobody," she said at the time. "You built a factory out there -- good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate."