During his news conference today, Mitt Romney responded to criticisms that he doesn't have a specific plan on jobs by saying that he's got a 59-point jobs plan, and that it's President Obama who doesn't have a specific plan for jobs. It's the "I'm rubber, you're glue" school of economic debate.
It's true that Mitt Romney has a jobs plan, and that it includes 59 bullet points. But it's not true that Obama hasn't released anything similarly detailed. He's released the American Jobs Act, which has 41 bullet points on its fact sheet. So Romney has a slight advantage in bullet points. But Obama's plan has actually been written up as a 423-page piece of legislation, making it considerably more specific than anything Romney has put forward.
But bullet points don't create jobs. Good policy does. So the beginning of this debate should be: Both candidates have jobs plans. Whose is better?
In his news conference, Romney emphasized four ideas in his plan: expanding domestic energy production, working out trade agreements with Latin America, cracking down on China and cutting the corporate tax rate. These are all reasonable ideas. But working out trade agreements takes a long time. Getting the Keystone oil pipeline up and running takes a long time. Rewriting and implementing a new corporate tax code takes a long time. Changing China's policies takes a long time. It's difficult to see how any of these ideas creates a substantial number of jobs quickly.
Obama also tends to emphasize four parts of his plan: increasing infrastructure investment, hiring more state and local workers, doubling the size of the payroll tax cut and adding a new set of tax cuts for small businesses and companies that hire new employees. Two of those policies imply directly hiring hundreds of thousands of workers. The other two move money into the economy immediately. It's easier to see how these policies lead to more jobs and demand in the short term.
In terms of the deficit, the Obama administration has put forward a specific set of ideas — mostly by eliminating itemized deductions for wealthier Americans — to pay for its plan. The Romney campaign has not yet said how it will cut corporate and individual tax rates without increasing the deficit.
In a sense, what's really interesting about the Romney and Obama plans is that they don't conflict with one another. Obama has a set of ideas for boosting job creation now. Romney has a set of ideas for long-term economic growth. You could implement all of Obama's 41 bullet points and all of Romney's 59 bullet points simultaneously. There's nothing about increasing infrastructure investment that keeps you from cutting corporate taxes, for instance.
That's not to say the two campaigns agree on what to do — the Obama administration wouldn't be happy about repealing the Affordable Care Act, while Romney wouldn't much like raising taxes on the rich — but it goes to show how focused they are on different aspects of our economic problems. Obama has a plan for creating jobs now. Romney has a plan for changing the regulatory, budgetary and tax environment in which jobs are created later.