WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Democratic governors are accusing House Republicans of deliberately sabotaging the economy to help Mitt Romney oust President Barack Obama.
"There's not a doubt in my mind that in their calculations, that they are hoping for the economy to slow before the election," Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., said in an interview Friday. "They think that's their best shot at unseating the president."
Democrats have grumbled for months that Republicans have obstructed legislation to deny Obama the election-year victories he needs to make the case for his economic record.
But on Friday, some Democratic governors pointed to the GOP-controlled House's efforts to withhold support for the stimulus and block Democratic jobs legislation, and said - in interviews with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the National Governors Association's annual meeting - that the only rational conclusion is that Republicans are sacrificing the economic recovery to bolster their argument that Obama has failed to create jobs.
"You have to ask the obvious question: How desperate and how far will they go to ensure this president gets defeated?" Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said.
An aide to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected the notion that Republicans were working to ensure the economic recovery failed. He said Democrats have not put forward any legitimate jobs legislation and he faulted them for blocking GOP efforts that could have resulted in faster job creation.
"We have passed bills that would reduce red tape, repeal a health care law that is making harder for small businesses to hire, open up American energy resources, and - later this month - stop the largest tax hike in American history," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
The Democrats' comments came on the first day of the NGA's three-day meeting in historic Williamsburg. The bipartisan group will compare notes on programs that have been effective in their states and hold sessions on Saturday focusing on commerce, health, homeland security and natural resources. They'll also pay an evening visit to the colonial settlement in Jamestown.
Although the group of governors meets annually, rarely are their gatherings fraught with as much naked partisanship and finger-pointing as this year, with the presidential election less than four months out. Overshadowing this year's conference was a campaign event by Obama on Friday in southeastern Virginia, about 30 miles away.
The Democratic governors' concerted effort to impugn Republicans' motives suggests Democrats may seek to assign blame to Republicans for a weak economy, rather than working to convince voters that the economy is improving under Obama and just needs more time. But that argument is a double-edged sword for Democrats, because it forces them to fully confront economic realities - including an unemployment rate that is hovering at 8.2 percent nationally. No president has been re-elected with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.
On the other hand, Republican governors face the awkward task of touting growth in their own local economies while arguing that progress has come despite - not because of - Obama's leadership.
They're approaching that task by drawing side-by-side comparisons with states with Democratic governors whose economies have added jobs at a slower pace than their neighbors.
"Just look at Illinois," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican. In Iowa, the unemployment rate is down to 5.1 percent, according to Labor Department statistics for May. In neighboring Illinois, it's at 8.6 percent. "He comes from Chicago. His philosophy is in control in Illinois, and look where they are: mired in debt and raising taxes and driving business and jobs out of the state."
O'Malley accused congressional Republicans of "taking the country's credit rating hostage and kicking a dent in it," alluding to the standoff over raising the debt ceiling in 2011, when Republicans spoke openly about the possibility of a U.S. default if Democrats didn't acquiesce to major spending cuts. Democrats blame that standoff - and the GOP - for Standard & Poor's decision in August to downgrade the U.S. credit rating and the souring effect the downgrade had on consumer confidence.
And Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set the tone in 2010 - and again in 2011 - when he said his top priority was to ensure Obama didn't serve more than one term.
In reality, both parties have stood in the way of efforts the other party claims would spur job growth. Republicans argue the jobs plan Obama put forth in September was laden with too much spending and would add to the deficit. Democrats counter that Republican initiatives rely too heavily on tax cuts for the wealthy.
Case in point: The Senate on Thursday rejected both a Democratic and a Republican plan to cut taxes on businesses. Both sides said the other's bill fell short of what was needed to help struggling families and businesses looking to expand.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said Republican resistance to Democratic jobs legislation had no other purpose than to elect Romney as president.
"In other times, taking those positions would be described as unpatriotic," Malloy said. "But our politics have become so distorted that to be against the jobs bill is a good thing."
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP