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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
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And I'm Robert Siegel. In Washington at least, the 2012 battle for the White House is down to a two-man race. President Obama acknowledged as much yesterday, even before Mitt Romney's latest primary wins. The president attacked Romney in a speech to the American Society of News Editors. Today it was Romney's turn to address the same group. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, Romney struck back, accusing the president of pushing an anti-business agenda.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Romney's speech to the news editors was less of a departure than the president's. Up until this week, Mr. Obama had been reluctant to single out and elevate any of his Republican opponents. Romney, on the other hand, has been eager to jump ahead to the general election, leaving behind the months of scrimmaging with his primary rivals. Now that his claim to the GOP nomination is all but certain, Romney returned to his original campaign target.
Mr. Obama didn't cause the recession, he said, but he's delayed the recovery and made it weaker than it might have been.
MITT ROMNEY: I know some will say, but the economy's getting better. Yeah, three and a half years after the stimulus.
HORSLEY: Romney argued that administration policies from healthcare to Wall Street reform have discouraged economic growth, and he accused Mr. Obama of delegating the stimulus act to congressional Democrats, turning what should have been a jobs program into the mother of all earmarks.
ROMNEY: This administration thinks that our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small. The truth is, we're struggling because our government has grown too big. As president, I'll get the government out of the way and unleash the power of American enterprise and the innovation of the American people.
HORSLEY: Romney promised to do that with lower taxes, reduced regulation and increased energy exploration. Mr. Obama had tried to preempt much of that argument in his own speech yesterday, saying Romney's plan is just a rerun of trickle-down economics.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The problem for advocates of this theory is that we've tried their approach on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see.
HORSLEY: The White House notes that employment and income growth were much stronger in the 1990s when tax rates were higher than in the ensuing decade of George Bush's tax cuts. Romney accused the president of campaigning against straw men, and in fact both he and Mr. Obama devoted much of their speeches to countering the caricatures created by their opponents. For his part, Romney insisted he's not some radical zealot campaigning for unfettered capitalism.
ROMNEY: Now, I'm not naÃ¯ve enough to believe that free enterprise is the solution to all of our problems.
HORSLEY: And Mr. Obama denied the opposite charge, that he's trying to build a government-centric society.
OBAMA: I have never been somebody who believes that government can or should try to solve every problem.
HORSLEY: At the same time, Mr. Obama argued government should do for the country what people can't do on their own, and he tried to align himself with past Republican presidents who championed government investments in railroads, interstate highways and land-grant colleges.
OBAMA: These investments benefit us all. They contribute to genuine, durable economic growth.
HORSLEY: Romney acknowledged a legitimate, though limited, role for government regulation and for what he called fair taxation. But he suggested the best way to improve living standards is to improve conditions for business.
ROMNEY: Making business thrive in America is one good way of getting people great jobs and rising incomes and growing the middle class.
HORSLEY: Romney said while he has not personally lobbied his Republican rivals to get out of the race, he does hope the primary contest ends quickly. That way, he can focus on raising money and campaigning in battleground states, arming himself for what he promised will be a defining election in November.
ROMNEY: President Obama and I have very different visions for America, both of what it means to be an American today and what it will mean in the future.
HORSLEY: That's one Romney proposition even the president would agree with. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.