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FACT CHECK: Perry campaign uses selective editing to claim Romney flip-flopped on the stimulus

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Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the debate, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Jae C. Hong/AP

Rick Perry’s campaign claims Mitt Romney’s 2010 book “praises Obama’s $800 billion stimulus, while [the] 2011 edition calls it a ‘failure.’ ” Not so. It’s true that Romney revised his words in the paperback edition, but his original version said the stimulus was “far less than successful,” and that “it will impose a heavy burden on the economy.” Those words were edited out of a Perry Web video to make it appear that Romney made a 180-degree turn, which he didn’t.

In the ongoing Perry-Romney war of words over written words, a Sept. 28 press release on the Perry campaign website accuses Romney of flip-flopping positions on the economic stimulus. And the flip occurs, the release says, in two versions of the same book: the original hardback version of Romney’s book “No Apology” and the paperback version released a year later:

Perry campaign press release: Add President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus to the constantly growing list of public policy issues that Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on.

In the 2010 hardcover edition of No Apology, Mr. Romney wrote, “The ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery.” When No Apology was published in paperback 2011, Mr. Romney flip-flopped and wrote, “The ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus that was passed in early 2009 has been a failure.”

It’s true that Romney updated a passage of the book dealing with the economic stimulus. But a full reading of the two versions of the passage belies the Perry campaign’s claim that Romney “praised” the stimulus and later “flip-flopped” on the policy.

Here’s the original passage, on pages 144-145 of the hardback version:

“No Apology,” hardback version: The “all-Democrat” stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery, but not as much as it could have had it included genuine tax- and job-generating incentives. President Obama and his economic team said their stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent. But unemployment soared well above that level. Not only has the 2009 package already been far less than successful, it will impose a heavy burden on the economy in the intermediate and long term.

A little farther down the page, Romney added, “Congress crafted and the president acceded to a stimulus that funded unnecessary pet projects, long-term programs, and delayed employment initiatives.”

Now, here’s the updated passage in the paperback version (released in 2011, allowing a longer view of assessment), on pages 158-159:

“No Apology,” paperback version: The “all Democrat” stimulus passed in early 2009 has been a failure. The administration takes great pains to argue that the stimulus helped grow the economy. The relevant question is whether it performed according to the Obama administration’s own standards — and that answer is “no.” President Obama and his economic team said that it would hold unemployment below 8 percent. But unemployment soared to 10 percent and has remained at over 9.5 percent for more than a year. Rather than focusing on incentives to create private sector employment, the stimulus funded federal programs and bailed out state governments. Washington, D.C., became a boom town as the government added 127 thousand new jobs. People throughout the rest of the country suffered, however, as private sector employment plunged by 2.4 million jobs. The 15 million Americans out of work as of August 2010 would constitute an unemployment line reaching from Washington, D.C., to California and back again. The Obama stimulus, funded with a mountain of debt, was a bust.

So in the updated version, Romney uses more pointed language, calling the stimulus a “failure” and a “bust.” But as the fuller passage makes clear, he was hardly praising the stimulus in the original version of the book.

This isn’t the first time Perry has accused Romney of massaging his updated book to conform to the prevailing political climate. During the Republican presidential debate on Sept. 22, Perry accused Romney of taking out a line from the earlier hardback version of the book that said the Massachusetts health care law “was exactly what the American people needed, to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts.” We looked into that and found that wasn’t exactly what Romney wrote, and that evidence shows Romney saw his plan as a potential model for other states to replicate, but tailored to their own unique situations.

As for Romney’s claim that Obama said the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent, there’s more to that story as well, as we explored in-depth in our article “Making Sense of Stimulus Spending.”

–By Robert Farley