Back to previous page


Romney’s jobs plan is typical. His economic team isn’t.

By Ezra Klein,

Eric Gay AP Mitt Romney’s biggest economic-policy announcement today wasn’t his jobs plan. It was his economic team.

The jobs plan is, well, your standard-issue GOP jobs plan. Big tax cuts tilted towards corporations and investment income. Deregulation. An increase in domestic energy production. A free-trade compact called -- I’m not making this up -- the “Reagan economic zone.” A promise to keep labor union small and shrinking. If this sort of thing appeals to you, then so will Romney’s plan. If it doesn’t, it probably won’t.

But campaign plans rarely survive first contact with the Congress. Barack Obama’s campaign health-care plan, for instance, did not include an individual mandate. His stimulus plan was a $75 billion tax cut. His cap-and-trade plan was arguably his boldest proposal. Things change.

And the reason they change is that situations change, political realities assert themselves, and advisers filter all that information and persuade the president to chart a new course. Which is why Romney’s team of economic advisers is so important. If Romney wins the presidency, he will have to respond to the political economic realities of the moment. And these are the staffers -- or at least a guide to the sort of staffers -- who will help him do it.

Romney’s team, which was announced with unusual fanfare for this sort of thing, consists of two decorated conservative economists and two retired conservative politicians. Interestingly for a candidate who is now working hard to sell himself as the only credible businessman in the race, the team doesn’t include anyone from the business world.

The economists are Harvard’s Greg Mankiw and Columbia Business School’s Glenn Hubbard, both of whom served, at different times, as heads of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. They both lean to the right, but they’re serious, respected researchers who are admired in their profession.

They also have some ideas that are not, at the moment, Republican orthodoxy. Mankiw, for instance, has repeatedly made the case for higher inflation to help us escape from the recession and higher carbon taxes to both raise revenue and aid the environment. Hubbard has advocated a cap-and-trade plan, and argued that there’s a good case for raising taxes by cutting tax expenditures and loopholes.

I know less about ex-senator Jim Talent and ex-congressman Vin Weber. Talent is currently based at the Heritage Foundation, and most of his recent publications make the case against cuts in defense spending. Weber hangs his hat at Clark Weinstock, and is considered one of Washington’s most influential lobbyists. Like Talent, he’s also been active in military issues and served as a member of the infamous Project for a New American Century, which was one of the strongest voices pushing for an invasion of Iraq.

So it’s a bit of an odd team. But the presence of Mankiw and Hubbard at least suggests that Romney is interested in regularly consulting serious economists, and that he’s willing to prize, in some cases, expertise over expedience. Unlike his economic plan, that actually is a break with the rest of the Republican field, and one worth noting.

© The Washington Post Company