D. Dowd Muska


Assessing Dr. Romney’s Prescription for America

January 12, 2012

A gargantuan line of credit with Tiffany & Company. Poor debating skills. Sexual-harassment allegations. Who’s rich, and how they got that way. Who’ll garner the strongest support from suburban women. Which one is most like Ronald Reagan.

Can we talk about policy now?

The race for the GOP nod to challenge Barack Obama is over. Barring a miraculous, last-second surge by Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney has wrapped up the nomination. So it’s time for a look at how His Mittness, if elected, would govern.

Let’s be reckless, and assume that the ex-governor is a man of his word. (It’s a sketchy postulate to apply to any politician, but particularly charitable for a notorious flip-flopper.) The best way to divine the 45th president’s domestic policies is to examine “Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth.”

The 160-page manifesto is frustrating. Some portions are surprisingly bold, while others are predictably vague. A few recommendations are downright dangerous. Worst of all, a raft of desperately needed reforms are nowhere to be found.

The “central issue confronting our country today,” Romney claims, is “generating economic growth and creating jobs.” It’s a debatable proposition -- more on that later -- but many items on his to-do list are sure to help the dwindling number of Americans who make, rather than take, for a living:

• abolition, once and for all, of the death tax

• a 29 percent cut in the corporate tax’s top rate

• federal-employee compensation that conforms to comparable private-sector work

• repeal of Obamacare

• congressional approval before the adoption of any “major” regulation

• restoration of presidential fast-track authority for free-trade deals

• expanded access to energy resources on federally controlled lands

• prevention of “overregulation of shale gas development and extraction”

Unfortunately, several of Romney’s priorities will offset the benefits of lower taxes, throttled bureaucrats, and boosted drilling. He’s eager to start a trade war with China, seeks to continue government’s misguided blundering in “job training,” and wants Washington to maintain its market-warping meddling in energy research and development.

It’s the all-too-brief fiscal-policy chapter of “Believe in America,” though, that supplies the bitterest disappointment. Romney’s call for a 5 percent cut in “non-security discretionary spending” is an insult to taxpayers -- exempting both “entitlements” and the nearly $1 trillion handed to the military-industrial complex shoves more than half the budget off the table. Amazingly, Romney boasts about capping federal expenditures at 20 percent of GDP. It’s a goal that the limited-government movement cannot accept. Within the lifetimes of our oldest countrymen, D.C.’s share was in the single digits.

Romney’s correct to note that a “sustained revenue decline” isn’t at the core of the fiscal crisis -- profligate fedpols are to blame. But he proposes no significant reductions for the greatest cost drivers. (The “promises made to our current retirees” about Social Security and Medicare must be kept. Remember that on Election Day, AARPers.) His proposal to block-grant Medicaid to the states is wise, as is his intention to a reduce the number of federal employees. But neither will put much of a chink in trillion-dollar annual deficits, and long-term debt/unfunded liabilities that run well into the tens of trillions of dollars.

It’s quite clear: The candidate with the perfect hair is no budget cutter. As Massachusetts limited-government activist Carla Howell warned, the Bay State budget was “$22.7 billion a year when [Romney] took office in January of 2003. When he left office four years later, it was over $25.7 billion -- plus another $2.2 billion in spending that the legislature took ‘off budget.’”

With persistently high unemployment, a moribund housing market, and a Dow Jones Industrial Average that has yet to regain its October 2007 high, Romney can’t be blamed for putting nearly all of his “messaging” chips on economics. But there’s little doubt that his chamber-of-commerce-approved policy plan overlooks much of the nation’s Washington-induced woes.

The federal government’s rampant subsidies supercharge family fragmentation. The “War in Drugs” is an expensive, bloody quagmire. D.C.-based educrats meddle in primary, secondary, and higher education, usurping what is a state and local affair. Racial preferences, fostered by courts and bureaucrats obsessed with “diversity,” persist. And the Federal Reserve remains appallingly unaccountable. Does the GOP’s soon-to-be-nominee have any interest in -- or any positions on -- these issues?

Yes, Mitt Romney would be friendlier to taxpayers and entrepreneurs than Barack Obama. But principled advocates of a limited, affordable national government are looking for something more than an MBA-in-chief.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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