NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The far-reaching economic plan that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put forward on Tuesday relies heavily on the premise that reviving the economy depends on getting the government out of the way of corporations.
Romney’s prescription for the country’s ailing economy includes overhauling federal tax, regulatory, trade and energy policies. His is a collection of business-friendly ideas that fit neatly within the mainstream of the Republican Party, with a few innovative proposals sprinkled throughout, namely tougher stances on China and labor unions.
“The right answer for America is not to grow government or to believe that government can create jobs. It is instead to create the conditions that allow the private sector and entrepreneurs to create jobs and to grow our economy. Growth is the answer, not government,” Romney said as he released the plan, called “Believe in America.”
That may be a questionable concept at a time when businesses are seeing record profits but have not put them into the kind of hiring and investment that could start a national economic recovery. At the same time, though, polls show that voters are losing faith in the Obama administration and its embrace of government as a solution to many of the country’s problems.
So in many ways, the terms of engagement between the president and Romney, as well as the rest of the Republican field, are set. “The politics of contrast are pretty simple here,” conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin said.
Channeling the management consultant he used to be, Romney presented the outlines of a 59-point plan, published in a 160-page book. His aides boasted that it is the most specific proposal any presidential candidate has offered.
Romney spoke without a prepared text under a banner that read, “Day One, Job One,” inside a sweltering North Las Vegas truck warehouse. He laid out 10 actions he said he would take on his first day in the Oval Office that would create more certainty for businesses.
They include five measures that would: lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent; implement free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea; expand domestic energy exploration; consolidate worker retraining programs and turn them over to the states; and cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent. (President Obama supports those three trade agreements, although he has been accused of dithering to satisfy the demands of organized labor.)
If elected, the former Massachusetts governor said he would issue five executive orders on Inauguration Day. They would roll back Obama’s health-care overhaul; eliminate Obama-era regulations; issue new oil-drilling permits; reverse a number of policies that favor organized labor; and sanction China for currency manipulation.
“I’ll clamp down on the cheaters, and China’s the worst example of that,” Romney said. “We can’t have a trade war. But we can’t have a trade surrender, either.”
He said he would cut the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition, possibly by hiring only one employee for every two who leave.
Romney said his approach would boost annual economic growth by 4 percent, create 11.5 million jobs and lower the nation’s unemployment rate to 5.9 percent over four years.
That level of growth would be somewhat higher than it has been in the past few decades, in which it has averaged slightly more than 3 percent.
Although aides said that Romney’s prescriptions would add certainty to the business environment over the long term, there was little to provide an immediate jolt to an economy whose growth has been hampered by low consumer spending and an overhang of mortgage and other personal debt. It would take years for measures such as new free-trade agreements and leasing more land for oil drilling to affect economic growth.
That is a conundrum for both parties at a time when the imperative for austerity has made it nearly impossible to propose new government spending as a stimulus.
“That’s the challenge for Republicans and everybody else. We actually have to create some demand,” said Neera Tanden, a former official in the Clinton and Obama administrations who works for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
Even as he touted the comprehensiveness of his plan, Romney left out some important details — such as setting personal income tax rates — that at least one of his opponents, former Utah governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr., has detailed in his own economic plan.
Huntsman’s proposal calls for eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends, lowering the business tax rate, and instituting a tax holiday for repatriating corporate profits earned overseas. He also said he would repeal Obama’s health-care law and roll back regulations on financial firms and the environment.
Romney proposed an overhaul of the tax code, including eliminating taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for individuals who earn less than $200,000. Over the longer run, he would explore lowering individual income tax rates and closing corporate loopholes. He also pledged to retain the George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
In introducing his plan, Romney unleashed a blistering critique of Obama’s economic stewardship and offered himself as the only Republican presidential candidate with the management skills and business know-how to lift the country out of a long recession.
At one point, Romney held up his iPhone to castigate Obama’s economic policies as outdated. “President Obama’s strategy is a pay-phone strategy and we’re in a smartphone world,” he said. “What he’s doing is taking quarters and stuffing them into the pay phone and he can’t figure out why it isn’t working. It’s not connected anymore, Mr. President.”
The Obama campaign was quick to respond.
“Governor Romney repackaged the same old policies that helped create the economic crisis: boosting oil company profits and allowing Wall Street to write its own rules, more tax breaks for large corporations and more tax cuts for the wealthiest,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
The president is scheduled to present his own jobs plan in a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday.
Romney also came under fire from some of his Republican presidential rivals.
“As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney failed to create a pro-jobs environment and failed to institute many of the reforms he now claims to support,” said Mark Miner, spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry has eclipsed Romney in national polls in part by touting his record of creating jobs in the Texas, but he has not outlined a specific jobs plan of his own.
Huntsman, meanwhile, released a video advertisement, titled “#1 vs. #47,” that compares his state’s record of leading the nation in job creation under his governorship with the fact that Massachusetts ranked 47th in the country under Romney.
“Beneath all the bluster, beneath the razzle, the dazzle, numbers never lie,” the narrator says in Huntsman’s ad. “As the conservative governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman quietly, thoughtfully led Utah to leading the nation in job creation. About the same time, another governor led Massachusetts — led them close to the very bottom.”