Mitt Romney will be doing some debate preparation this week, we are told. He’s well practiced, if a bit rusty, from the 20 outings against Republican primary candidates. He’s shown the ability to take a large amount of information and marshal it aggressively against his opponents. He’ll need to use those skills in abundance to close the sale with voters.
Some of the questions are easy to predict and even easier to rebut.
Why give tax cuts to the rich? I don’t. I lower rates and take away deductions, keeping the code’s progressivity.
But a study said that is impossible, didn’t it? Well, numerous experts have explained that those folks made a bunch of assumptions that were not in my plan. There are plenty of deductions, exclusions and credits that can pay for lower rates.
Now one of the most predictable attacks from the moderators as well as the president is that Mitt Romney is suggesting the same policies that got us into the financial crisis. In other words, isn’t he George W. Bush?
The first response is that the cause of the financial meltdown, a housing bubble fueled by excess liquidity and faulty housing policy, is not the responsibility of only one party. The Bush administration tried to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but Democrats in Congress would have none of it.
That said, the most important point for Romney in this regard is to make clear how different his approach is from both Bush and Obama. In fact, when you get down to the nuts and bolts, Romney is proposing a set of policies that were either never tried or never implemented under either administration. In large part, he is running to fix problems that neither Bush nor Obama would tackle.
For starters, Romney is proposing real and meaningful debt reduction. Bush did not. Romney, for example, plans to reduce the federal workforce, roll back discretionary spending and attack cost items such as the Davis-Bacon law (requiring government contractors to pay union wages). His most important effort in this regard is entitlement reform, which neither Bush nor Obama pursued successfully.
Romney will repeal Obamacare, he says. Obviously Bush never had to confront a monstrous piece of regulation with new spending, new taxes and a raid on Medicare.
Romney is proposing a bipartisan Medicare premium support plan, Social Security reform (with no individual accounts) and Medicaid bloc granting. Bush never did this.
Bush instituted tax rate reductions but left the Byzantine tax code essentially unchanged. Romney has comprehensive individual and corporate tax reform plans that aim to spur growth, simplify the code and make business more competitive overseas.
The president likes to say that Republicans are against all regulation and will have us breathing dirty air, drinking polluted water and letting business generally run amok. In fact Romney has made clear (ever since he rolled out his 59-point [!] jobs program) that he favors reasonable regulation. Whether it is reining in an Environmental Protection Agency that wants to regulate dust on farms or paring down Dodd-Frank (with its giveaways to big banks), Romney should be clear about the sorts of regulations that are counterproductive. Romney will need to explain that President Obama is offering one of his famous false choices — no regulation or the Obama stranglehold.
In a slew of other ways (China trade policy, providing Title I school vouchers for the poor, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, setting 2020 as a date for North American energy independence, etc.) Romney’s proposals bear little resemblance to the Bush agenda. In part, this is because the challenges are vastly different than those Bush confronted, and in part, because the massive debt and stagnant economy experienced during the Obama years require new solutions.
It has been a convenient crutch, a throwaway line for the MSNBC gang, to pose this as another Obama vs. Bush election. It is lazy rhetoric that Romney should be prepared to rebut swiftly with concrete examples. Obama would like to pose as Bill Clinton (“our” policies worked, he tells audiences) and to cast Romney as Bush. It will be up to Romney to show he is his own man and Obama is no Bill Clinton.