But when asked if he would balance the budget in his first year as president, Romney gave an answer worthy of John Maynard Keynes himself.
“If you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent,” he told Time magazine. “That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that.” Similarly, he criticized Obama’s defense cuts in an ad saying reduced Pentagon spending would “eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Ezra Klein is the editor of Wonkblog and a columnist at the Washington Post, as well as a contributor to MSNBC and Bloomberg. His work focuses on domestic and economic policymaking, as well as the political system that’s constantly screwing it up. He really likes graphs, and is on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. E-mail him here.
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Across the aisle, Obama continues to support additional stimulus, but his campaign has been emphasizing a package of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce deficits — not stimulus plans. So the campaigns don’t disagree about whether government spending can create jobs or about whether we should be pivoting to deficit reduction.
On financial regulation, the Obama administration and the Romney campaign have both resisted calls for root-and-branch reforms such as breaking up large banks. Instead, Obama signed the ameliorant Dodd-Frank Act. Although Romney opposes Dodd-Frank, he has been vague about his objections to the law and emphatic in support of broadly similar regulations.
Even the single largest policy difference between the two candidates — Romney’s proposed cuts to low-income programs like Medicaid — is fundamentally a technocratic argument. Romney and his team contend that giving states control of Medicaid would produce huge savings and better care. The Obama administration (and most policy experts) is skeptical on both counts. Here again, the argument being made isn’t about whether we care for the poor, it’s about how we do it.
I don’t mean to play down the very real differences between the two campaigns. How much we spend, what we spend it on and who pays for it are all very consequential. But American politics operate atop a fairly firm and broad understanding about the proper scope of the state. Partisanship often obscures that fact, in part because the party out of power has reason to exaggerate disagreements with the governing party. Yet behind the boisterous partisan stage is a quieter arena where broad consensus reigns. Whether it’s a good consensus is, of course, another question.
For previous columns by Ezra Klein, see postbusiness.com