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Mitt Romney, seeking to regain his footing after a recent controversial audio recording of himself was unearthed earlier this week, used an old tape of Barack Obama to put the president on the defensive.
"There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said, yes, he believes in redistribution," Romney, the Republican Party presidential nominee, said during a fundraiser Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta.
Romney first talked about the recording Tuesday in a Fox News interview, saying Obama "likes" redistribution. Romney then said he believes in free enterprise, not redistribution of wealth. His running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also has pounced on the Obama audio on the campaign trail.
We were curious to find out if the Romney campaign accurately reflected what Obama said and meant in the recording.
Here’s the sentence in which Obama specifically spoke about redistribution: "I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution – because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
Obama apparently made those remarks, according to a pro-Romney website, at Loyola University in Chicago on Oct. 19, 1998, when Obama was an Illinois state senator.
Obama campaign officials said Romney’s discussion of the recording was the sign of a desperate campaign.
"Fourteen years ago, then-Sen. Obama was making an argument for a more efficient, more effective government — specifically citing city government agencies that he didn’t think were working effectively," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said, according to ABC News. "He believed then, and believes now, that there are steps we can take to promote opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair shot if they work hard. Unlike Gov. Romney, he doesn’t believe that if you’re a student who applies for a loan, you’re looking for a handout."
We asked the Romney campaign Wednesday afternoon for any additional information they thought may be useful and may address any concerns that their candidate took Obama’s 1998 remarks out of context. Romney officials sent us a transcript of Obama’s remarks and link to the audio.
In the Fox News interview, Romney gave his interpretation of what he believed Obama meant.
"The president’s view is one of a larger government. There’s a tape that just came out today in which the president said that he likes redistribution," Romney said.
For months, the Obama and Romney campaigns have dueled over their drastically different ideals of what role the federal government should play in America.
Earlier this week, a secretly recorded audio of Romney went public in which he said at a Florida fundraiser in May that 47 percent of Americans will vote for Obama "no matter what" because they are dependent on government and feel that they are "victims." PolitiFact has fact-checked several of the claims in the Romney audio. Romney has since said his comments could have been more elegantly stated, but he stands by his larger point that a "government-centered nation" is not good for America.
Romney and Republicans have consistently portrayed Obama as a president who wants to expand government and engage in class warfare because of his proposal to increase income taxes on those who make more than $250,000 a year. In 2008, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Obama wanted to "spread the wealth" because of his tax policy and "experiment with socialism" as president. PolitiFact rated that claim a Pants on Fire.
The 96-second audio indicates Obama was near the end of his remarks at Loyola. The audio begins with Obama talking about policy research for the working poor. He then spoke about battling the notion that government action is ineffective.
"There has been a systematic propaganda campaign against the possibility of government action and its efficacy, and I think some of it has been deserved," Obama said.
In the audio, Obama is critical of the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools, saying neither has been a good model of policymaking. The portion of the recording that the Romney campaign has seized upon ends with Obama discussing redistribution. But Obama said more, NBC News reports.
NBC News found an additional clip of the recording. Here’s what Obama said:
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities."
So Obama is also talking about ways to encourage competitiveness and innovation, themes Romney consistently extols on the campaign trail. Romney, though, may disagree with Obama’s definition of competitiveness and innovation.
Finally, Obama has long advocated raising taxes on the wealthy in order to avoid cuts to social spending programs for the middle and lower classes. Polls show most Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy. That’s a form of "redistribution," though Obama doesn’t call it that today.
Also, the progressive income tax code itself, which both parties have supported in the past, could fairly be called "redistribution." It enshrines the idea that the rich pay a larger share of their income for government services that benefit everyone.
To review, Romney said Obama "believes in redistribution." Romney said on Fox in discussing the 1998 audio that Obama shows he believes in "a larger government."
Obama said in the recording that he believes in structuring "government systems that pool resources" to make sure everyone has a shot. Obama didn’t specifically talk about making government bigger in those remarks. Obama was even critical of some government agencies in Chicago in the clip. Obama also spoke about ways to foster competition and innovation.
Obama spoke of redistribution in a way that government can create an even playing field for everyone and encourage competition. The clip of the 1998 audio that Romney referenced to criticize Obama doesn’t tell the complete story.
We rate Romney’s claim as Mostly True.
Politico, "I can help the middle class, Obama can’t," Sept. 19, 2012.
ABC News, "Republicans Hit Obama for ‘Redistribution’ Remark in 1998 Recording," Sept. 18, 2012.
Emails from Romney campaign, Sept. 19, 2012.
Fox News Insider, "Mitt Romney’s first interview since ‘47 percent’ video released," Sept. 18, 2012.
MittRomneyCentral.com, "Obama in 1998: I actually believe in redistribution," Sept. 18, 2012.
NBC News, "White House: ‘Redistribution’ video a ‘desperate effort’ by GOP," Sept. 19, 2012.
NBC News, "In rest of ‘98 clip, Obama speaks of ‘competition’ and ‘the marketplace,’ " Sept. 20, 2012.
PolitiFact, "Obama would ‘experiment’ with socialism,’ " Dec. 3, 2008.
PolitiFact, "Fact checking Romney’s private fundraising remarks," Sept. 18, 2012.
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