Bain Capital debate intensifies in Senate

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday called President Obama the most anti-business president since Jimmy Carter.

McConnell made the comparison in response to the Obama campaign’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s track record as an executive at Bain Capital.

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“This is certainly the most anti-business administration since the Carter years. At least you can say this for President Carter, he was largely incompetent. This administration has actually done a lot of damage to the country,” McConnell told reporters.

The Bain debate had the White House and Obama campaign playing defense a day after Obama weighed in, saying Romney's business background was his "main calling card" for why he should be president.

During the White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney was forced to engage on a string of questions on the issue, saying it was "absolutely appropriate" to examine Romney's business background.

Romney is "running as a businessman who can do for America what he did for private equity," Carney told reporters, ramping up the rhetoric. "I think Americans would expect that credential deserves some scrutiny."

The comments echoed those made by other senior administration officials on Tuesday who said that Romney hasn't been touting his record as governor of Massachusetts but highlighting his experience as a business executive in an election where the economy has taken center stage.

Asked if the attacks would reflect poorly on Obama in the general election, the senior officials said Obama is viewed as an optimistic person. And while people on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" set might have a problem with their handling of Romney's business background, voters think it's a highly relevant issue because both candidates will have a debate on how they each view the economy.

Senate Democrats moved to defend the White House on Tuesday.

“I believe that Gov. Romney, who holds himself out to be this great businessman should have his record looked at. I have no problem with this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) also defended the Obama campaign, saying Romney’s record in business and equity “is absolutely a legitimate focus.”

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“He’s asking to be president of the United States. What’s his track record?” said Conrad. “He’s said he’s created all these jobs. What’s the evidence? He can’t just go out and make these claims and not expect it to be subject to scrutiny.”

McConnell did not directly criticize the Obama campaign’s Bain add, which drew fire from Newark, N.J.’s Democratic mayor Cory Booker over the weekend. But the GOP leader said it reflected a broader anti-business sentiment within the administration.

“It’s interesting to note that the whole notion of earned success and capitalism seems to be under attack by this administration across the board,” McConnell said.

—This story was updated at 4:29 p.m.