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Posted at 09:06 AM ET, 10/18/2012

The Morning Plum: Mitt Romney and ‘trickle down government’

One of the more surreal aspects of this campaign has been that one of the two major candidates is running on a platform that is completely unmoored from professional consensus on the most pressing issue facing the country. In an election all about who can best fix the economic crisis, Mitt Romney is advancing purported policies and ideas that many experts see as completely disconnected from — and even at odds with — the solutions actually required to fix that crisis, which is still causing suffering to millions of Americans.

Case in point: Romney’s charge — most recently made at the debate on Tuesday — that Obama favors “trickle down government,” which is meant to be understood on faith as a terrible thing. In a must read, Timothy Noah documents that this phrase has a history, and explains the meaning of Romney’s use of it in the context of the presidential race:

To the very minor extent that “trickle-down government” has any meaning at all, it’s shorthand for the argument, “Government spending doesn’t stimulate the economy.” But even that is just a reflexive attempt to neutralize the argument (backed by powerful evidence) that tax cuts for rich people don’t stimulate the economy. Indeed, to whatever extent they exacerbate income inequality, the growing consensus is that they may harm it.
The idea that government spending doesn’t help the economy contradicts a pretty sturdy consensus among economists (including, according to Paul Krugman, at least two of Romney’s own economic advisers, Greg Mankiw of Harvard and Glenn Hubbard of Columbia) that government spending does indeed stimulate the economy, just like John Maynard Keynes said. Indeed, in times of economic crisis government spending (along with Fed monetary policy, which the president and Congress don’t control) is just about the only tool the government has at its disposal. Romney claims not to believe this. But if he really doesn’t believe it, where is his apology for wasting the government’s money at the 2002 Winter Olympics?

At the debate, Romney repeated the claim that government doesn’t create jobs. But of course, government does create jobs. There is a legitimate argument to be had over whether creating jobs with government spending is worth the cost or over whether it’s ultimately worth doing if it won’t fix longer term problems. But there is a strong consensus among economists that government spending is an important tool to address short term unemployment crises, which can be pursued while longer term solutions are put in place. Yet Romney blithely dismisses this notion as “trickle down government.”

What makes this all the worse is that Romney’s own jobs plan isn’t actually a jobs plan. Economists don’t believe that his main proposals — repealing Obamacare, increasing energy production, cutting taxes disproportionately on the rich — will fix the short term crisis, and they think more austerity now could make things worse. And on top of this, Romney’s own campaign has proven unable to back up his plan’s lofty promise that it will create 12 million jobs.

It bears repeating that one candidate in this race has an actual plan to address the most pressing problem this country faces, and the other doesn’t. I would like Obama to be clearer about his second term agenda than he has been. But that said, Obama has put forward a plan to fix the unemployment crisis. Whether or not you like the American Jobs Act, it is a plan that has been evaluated by economists, who judge that it would create one to two million jobs. It has been scrutinized by major news organizations. By contrast, Romney’s purported plan has not undergone any meaningful scrutiny at all. This basic fact is hiding right there in plain sight, and it it absolutely central to understanding what’s happening in this election.

* Yes, Romney’s jobs plan is a sham: Dana Milbank becomes the first columnist to weigh in on the newly discovered fraudulence of Romney’s claim that his plan will create 12 million jobs. As Milbank bluntly puts it, the claim is “baseless” and “discredited.”

As I keep saying, it is incomprehensible that this is not getting more attention. Romney’s 12 million jobs plan is the central rationale of his whole presidential candidacy. And it has been proven to have no foundation whatsoever. This is at least as bad Romney’s phony tax math, which was widely deemed as newsworthy. How is this new revelation about Romney’s sham jobs plan not a bigger story?

* History in the making on gay marriage? This is a huge deal: A new Post poll finds that likely Maryland voters support a ballot initiative to uphold a state law allowing gay marriage by 52-43. If this passes, it would be historic, because this would be the first time that gay marriage passed by popular vote.

* Romney campaign worried about social issues, women: Jim Rutenberg and Jeremy Peters ferret out why the Romney campaign is redoubling its efforts to close the gender gap:

Through polling and focus groups, the Romney campaign has found that while undecided women said they were concerned primarily about economic issues, they were troubled by whether Mr. Romney’s positions on issues like abortion and contraception were too unyielding.

Seems to me the Obama camp could press harder on the argument that Romney would certainly appoint conservative anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court. So...Roe v. Wade?

* Obama to play hardball on taxes in fiscal cliff talks? Lori Montgomery scoops:

President Obama is prepared to veto legislation to block year-end tax hikes and spending cuts, collectively known as the “fiscal cliff,” unless Republicans bow to his demand to raise tax rates for the wealthy, administration officials said.

This reflects the sense that Democrats will have the leverage in these talks, particularly if Obama wins reelection. It’ll be interesting to see if this veto threat becomes an issue in the presidential campaign.

* Obama still way ahead among young voters: A new Harvard Institute Politics poll finds Obama way ahead of Romney among 18-to-29 voters, 48-26. That’s down from the 58 percent he won in 2008 — but among those young voters who will definitely vote, Obama is winning 55 percent. And here’s an interesting tidbit: The poll finds that 58 percent of this demographic will definitely or probably be voting, versus 48 percent who voted last time.

Romney’s extended pitch to young voters — that the Obama economy guarantees them a grim future — is not working to the degree the Romney team must have hoped.

* Poll finds Obama still ahead in Ohio: A new Survey USA poll in finds Obama ahead in Ohio by 45-42; he leads among those who have voted early by 57-38. None of the polling was done after Tuesday’s debate. But keep an eye on the polling averages: The Real Clear Politics average has Obama up by 2.4 in the state.

* Obama holds slight edge in Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin: Nate Cohn digs into the most recent state polling and finds Obama holding small advantages in all three of those states. He also notes that polls may be understating Obama’s strength in Nevada, a view shared by excellent Nevada journalist Jon Ralston (I can’t find his tweet, just trust me).

This, from Cohn, is key: “Obama would win reelection if he won Ohio, Nevada, and Wisconsin.” More polling should be coming out of Ohio later this week.

* And a tribute to George McGovern: Steve Kornacki reports that McGovern may be on the verge of death, and offers a stirring tribute to the man and his crusades against hunger, poverty, and war. Highly recommended.

What else?

By  |  09:06 AM ET, 10/18/2012

 
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