Former RNC chief: GOP is too focused on spending cuts, not enough on growth

February 19, 2013

Jim Gilmore is a conservative Republican, a former governor in a purple state and a man who has developed, in the last several years, a deep and emotional concern over the condition of the U.S. economy. And he’s frustrated – because, he says, Republicans in Washington seem to care more about cutting federal spending than sowing the seeds of rapid economic growth.

Former Virginia Governor and RNC chair James Gilmore III. (Kevin Wolf -- AP)
Former Virginia Governor and RNC chair James Gilmore III. (Kevin Wolf -- AP)

“That’s the biggest problem with the Republicans” on Capitol Hill, Gilmore, a former Virginia governor, said this morning over coffee and a ham-and-egg biscuit in Alexandria. “They think spending is the most important thing. It’s not.”

He says he has urged GOP leaders to back down and compromise to prevent the so-called sequester spending cuts from going through - “I keep telling them, you’re going to lose this” – and he has strong words for congressional leaders’ focus on deficit reduction as their primary economy goal.

“Above all things,” he says, “they shouldn’t be talking about debt and deficits. Because the left’s got an answer for them.”

That answer would be, raise taxes, which Gilmore says is the opposite of what the economy needs right now – and he’s quite critical of Democrats for pushing tax increases. But spending cuts won’t help the economy either, he says.

What Gilmore is pushing, from his perch as president of the non-profit Free Congress Foundation, is an aggressive tax-cutting (and tax-simplifying) plan. He says it would unleash new investment, which has fallen sharply as a share of GDP compared to the decade before the Great Recession, and grow the economy much faster. The plan includes reducing and simplifying corporate tax rates, cutting income tax rates to a maximum of 25 percent and eliminating many deductions that exist now in the code, among other changes.

Those ideas were in vogue among GOP leaders a decade ago, when Gilmore was last a Republican in a position of power. His terms as governor and chairman of the Republican National Committee both ended in 2002; in the decade since, he’s served on the boards of seven companies and run unsuccessfully for president and Senate. He recently warned in a National Review interview that his party risks “permanent minority” status if it can’t appeal to a more diverse electorate.

The 2000s produced historically anemic job creation even before the recession, and the Bush formula of cutting taxes and increasing federal domestic and military spending provoked a backlash among the party base. But it is the bleak economic outlook that has persisted through this decade that has Gilmore convinced a big tax-cut package is what the country needs.

“I want to create something,” he says, “that’s exciting and urgent and optimistic.” Something to give young Americans hope that faster growth is just around the corner.

Jim Tankersley is an economic policy reporter for The Washington Post.
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