Quad-City area Republicans sought Wednesday to push the idea that President Barack Obama doesn’t understand small businesses, seizing on a remark he made two weeks ago that’s become a flash point in the race with GOP rival Mitt Romney.
Two Quad-City area businesspeople criticized the president’s remarks at a news conference in Davenport, one of 25 synchronized Romney events being held across the country that are aimed at drawing attention to the president’s remarks in Virginia about government’s role in the economy.
The businesspeople — Mark Ross, a partner at the consulting firm IGO Partners, and Delia Meier, whose family founded the Iowa-80 Truck Stop — both took issue with the president Wednesday.
Ross said he’s been involved in six business startups, none of which had government involvement.
“This country was built on risk and reward from the private sector, not because of government involvement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Meier said her family has served its customers, taken care of employees and reinvested repeatedly to build the business. She acknowledged the role creation of the interstate highway system has had on her business but said it, too, contributes, collecting the excise taxes that pay for the road system.
Meier said Wednesday she felt “dismissed” by the president’s remarks.
“It wasn’t given to us. We weren’t made to do it. We didn’t ask for a handout. We did it because we wanted to,” she said.
On July 13, the president said:
“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. 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. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
Romney jumped on the comments — particularly the part when the president said “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that” — to say Obama was insulting businesspeople by saying they didn’t build their own enterprises. But in recent days, in the face of complaints the president’s words were being taken out of context, the Republicans have said the context is even worse.
“His view of this entire situation is that government knows best,” said Brian Kennedy, a Bettendorf lawyer who is chairman of Romney’s campaign in Iowa.
Obama’s campaign has said the “that” the president was referring to were roads and infrastructure. And they say it’s the president who has cut business taxes. Still, the line of attack has prompted the campaign to respond. On Tuesday, the Obama camp began running a television ad in Iowa and other states. “Of course, Americans build their own businesses,” Obama says in the ad.
Erin Seidler, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, responded to the events Wednesday by saying Obama has cut small-business taxes and “the president is working to invest in what helps build strong and growing small businesses.“
Meanwhile, supporters of the president said Kennedy has lobbied for earmarks and Pell Grant funding in the past, and Meier presided over Truck Stops of Iowa, an association that supports biofuel subsidies for fuel retailers. She’s also opposed privatization of interstate rest stops.
Meier said that allowing private businesses to sell products at government-owned rest areas would give them an unfair advantage over truck stops operating on private land and that the biofuel subsidies benefit Iowa farmers.
Kennedy responded that they weren’t saying there’s no role for government but that individuals succeed because of their own initiative.