TOPICS > Politics

Candidates Trade Barbs on Outsourcing

July 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
After a Washington Post story investigated Former Gov. Mitt Romney's connection to sending jobs overseas as the head of Bain Capital, President Obama has seized on outsourcing as a line of attack against his opponent. And Romney launched a counterattack in response.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn next to the presidential campaign, where the issue of outsourcing jobs has dominated the debate all week.

Ray Suarez has our report.

NARRATOR: The Washington Post has just revealed that Romney’s companies were pioneers in shipping U.S. jobs overseas.

RAY SUAREZ: The issue of so-called outsourcing has moved front and center in the presidential race in the past few weeks.

MITT ROMNEY (R): If there’s an outsourcer in chief, it’s the president of the United States, not the guy who’s running to replace him.


RAY SUAREZ: The debate was sparked by a Washington Post last month that revealed Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney, had invested in companies that move jobs overseas. And the fight was rejoined earlier this week with another Post story examining the president’s record on outsourcing.



RAY SUAREZ: The president seized on the initial Post report the day after it was published during a Florida campaign stop.

BARACK OBAMA: Let me tell you, Tampa, we do not need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval Office. We need a president who will fight for American jobs and fight for American manufacturing.


RAY SUAREZ: And the Obama campaign has repeatedly targeted Mitt Romney’s private sector experience through campaign ads to undermine his standing with middle-class voters.

NARRATOR: Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator.

MITT ROMNEY: I know how jobs are created.

NARRATOR: But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico.

RAY SUAREZ: Eugene Kiely is deputy director of the nonpartisan organization, which monitors the accuracy of political ads and statements. He says the examples cited by the Obama campaign occurred after Romney left Bain to run the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

But according to reports in The Boston Globe and Mother
Jones, Romney signed business agreements and Securities and Exchange Commission filings on Bain’s behalf for years after 1999, including the purchase of a Chinese consumer products company, declaring himself to be the company’s CEO.

EUGENE KIELY, Deputy Director, It comes down to how active he was and whether there is any evidence that he was involved in the decisions that were made at those companies. And that’s what we are lacking. That’s what we don’t see. And that’s why, to this point, what we are saying is that you can’t say he shipped jobs.

RAY SUAREZ: Despite those findings, the Obama campaign has not backed off this line of attack.

For its part, the Romney campaign has launched a vigorous counteroffensive, which includes a new television ad released yesterday aimed at discrediting the president’s attacks.

NARRATOR: The Obama outsourcing attacks misleading, unfair and untrue. There was no evidence that Mitt Romney shipped jobs overseas. Candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: So, shame on you, Barack Obama.

RAY SUAREZ: Romney himself also hit back earlier this week during a town hall event in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, he accused the president of pursuing policies such as the 2009 stimulus that resulted in jobs being created overseas.

MITT ROMNEY: But it is interesting that, when it comes to outsourcing, that this president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: Kiely says has looked at similar claims leveled by conservative groups in the past, and found they too stretch the truth.

EUGENE KIELY: We have found in many of the cases they are exaggerated or just flat-out wrong, for example, the claim that $2.3 billion had gone to — in manufacturing tax credits had gone to solar companies that created jobs overseas. There is another one about an automotive company, Fisker, that was manufacturing cars in Finland.

Yes, it did manufacture cars in Finland, but the money that it received for — stimulus money that it received went for other things, design, engineering, things like that.

RAY SUAREZ: As the two campaigns trade political barbs over outsourcing, another debate has formed about the economic consequences of the practice.

Robert Samuelson writes a weekly economics column for The Washington Post. He says outsourcing has had a minimal impact on U.S. job growth.

ROBERT SAMUELSON, The Washington Post: On the U.S. economy at large, it has had a very modest effect. The things that really affect the American economy, both for good and for ill, are mostly domestic-driven. There are estimates, for example, that we have lost over the last decade — roughly the last decade 2.8 million jobs to Chinese imports.

That’s a lot of jobs, but it occurred over a decade, so that, in any one year, you might have several hundred thousand jobs.

RAY SUAREZ: Robert Scott is director of trade and manufacturing policy research at the Economic Policy Institute. He says outsourcing has had a more severe effect on industries such as manufacturing.

ROBERT SCOTT, Economic Policy Institute: I focused on the number of jobs displaced. I have thrown out numbers of five million or six million jobs displaced. In an economy with 130 million workers, that’s not a big number. I will accept that.

But within manufacturing in particular, it is a big number. It helps explain perhaps as much as half the jobs that we lost in manufacturing.

RAY SUAREZ: The Post’s Samuelson says critics of outsourcing tend to ignore its benefits.

ROBERT SAMUELSON: People talk about offshoring as if it is a complete evil, that it’s just loss of jobs. But — and it is to some extent a loss of jobs, obviously.

But it also has some benefit. It tends to hold down prices and increase consumer purchasing power. It tends to increase corporate profits so they can invest more or so they can raise dividends or whatever. So it does have some sort of stimulus effect on the American economy.

RAY SUAREZ: But Scott argues those benefits simply do not outweigh the costs.

ROBERT SCOTT: It’s certainly true the consumers benefit from cheaper products when we can import goods from places like China.

But the bottom line is that, if that benefit were affecting the living standards of working families, we would see their real wages rise. In other words, the price — the fall in the price of products would compensate them for the downward pressure that they have experienced in their wages. And that’s just not the way it’s worked out.

RAY SUAREZ: With most Americans citing jobs and the economy as their top issues this election year, neither campaign seems ready to concede in the outsourcing fight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sure enough, the candidates went after each other late this afternoon on the issue of how long Romney was at the helm of Bain Capital.

The president talked with Washington’s WJLA-TV while campaigning in Virginia. And the Republican spoke with ABC News.

MITT ROMNEY (R): Well, of course, that’s that’s ridiculous and disturbing to come from their campaign and beneath the dignity of the president and his campaign.

The president needs to take control of these people. The kinds of attacks that they have been making have now been checked time and time again by independent fact-checkers. They have been found to be false and misleading, simply wrong. But they keep on doing everything they can to deflect attention from the fact that the American people want someone who can help create jobs in this country and get people working again.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My understanding is, is that Mr. Romney tested to the SEC multiple times that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital.

And I think most Americans figure, if you are the chairman, CEO and president of a company, that you are responsible for what that company does. Ultimately, Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions, because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you’re ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations.