Friday, May 25, 2012

"In Mitt Romney's America..." -- Scare us, Obama

As I've said before, these recent Gallup numbers frighten me: voters give Romney the edge in handling deficit and debt, 54-39, and economic growth, 52-42. Together they suggest that people are buying Romney's core pitch: an able businessman is well equipped to run the economy.  The perception could well be decisive.

On the campaign trail, Obama is contrasting his core economic vision with Romney's, and that's good. He's tying Romney's Bain tenure to his trickle-down economics, and that's fair and potentially helpful -- though I think he desperately needs a bulked-up Super Pac to keep his hands clean while the team offsets all the scurrilous shit that Crossroads & co. will heap on his own head.

But what seems to my amateur political sensibility the most effective way to tear down the perception of Romney's economic competence is also the most truthful way: hammer home in detail the ruinous spending cuts and tax cuts that Romney has proposed for the country.  Scare people. Because these proposals are scary -- and most Americans oppose them when they're spelled out in ways that Romney dare not do.

I think Obama was on the right track when he hammered the Ryan budget in detail, extrapolating the specific cuts that would be called for if the broad category cuts were distributed evenly, filling in the details that Ryan decorously left blank.  He needs to do the same with Romney's proposals, which are in sync with Ryan's. I want to see the economic equivalent of Ted Kennedy's vision of Robert Bork's America. Romney's America would suffer

  • Nearly $10 trillion in spending cuts and/or cuts to the broadest-based tax deductions over 10 years to offset a) $5 trillion in new tax cuts that will deliver an average of $150,000 per year to the top 1%, and b) permanent extension of all the Bush tax cuts. 
  • A 59% reduction by 2022 in Medicare and all other federal spending excluding defense and social security (cuts reduced to whatever extent Romney offsets his tax rate cuts with the tax loophole closures he has failed to specify).  Fill in blanks as Obama did on Ryan Budget (key passage below).
  • The end of the Medicare guarantee as Medicare is voucherized and the rump "government plan" devalued by adverse selection.
  • 14-27 million fewer Americans on Medicaid than under current law; 45-58 million more uninsured in 10 years than under implementation of the Affordable Care Act. 
  • A bloated military budget absorbing nearly all federal discretionary spending (run the numbers on Romney's recommended increases as they would play out under a BBA and 20%-of-GDP spending cap).
  • Continued war in Afghanistan; new war all but promised in Iran.
  • Trade war with China; renewed Cold War with Russia
My list needs some work, along the lines of Obama's sampling of domestic spending cuts under the Ryan budget.  There Obama spelled out his assumptions, filling in Ryan's blanks by running the numbers if the cuts were applied evenly across all programs.  With Romney you'd have to go deeper into hypotheticals: do you credit him with imposing any tax loophole closures to offset an unspecified portion of his new tax cuts, as he says he wants to do but fails to say how?  The 59% general domestic spending cut by 2022 cited above is a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculation that assumes no offsetting reduction in tax expenditures -- fair enough, since Romney has not officially proposed any, and in private gatherings has only floated a nibble or two.

In any case, unlike Romney, Obama does spell out his assumptions when projecting the effects of his opponent's proposals.  He should maintain that advantage in honesty and credibility.  The Romney reality is horrific enough without embellishment.  How can a man putting forward that extremist sham enjoy a presumption of economic competence?

Update, 5/26: Ezra Klein is on the same page:
We don’t have to pore over every decision Romney made in Massachusetts to discern what he would do in Washington if elected. Romney and the Republicans in Congress have explained exactly what they intend to accomplish -- and their plans are remarkably in sync.

The budget prepared by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, and the Romney campaign’s general-election platform look quite similar. Both would cut taxes while flattening the tax code. Their Medicare-reform plans look similar; Ryan even modified his original draft to make it look more like Romney’s, which allows seniors to choose between traditional fee-for-service Medicare and private options.

Their plans to increase defense spending are alike, as are their plans to cut domestic spending and to turn Medicaid, food stamps and other safety-net programs over to the states.

Because it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Romney is elected and Republicans don’t hold the House and win control of the Senate, Republicans wouldn’t be stymied by Democratic opposition. They would have the votes to pass their agenda. True, they won’t get a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the upper chamber, but Ryan’s budget is, well, a budget, which means it could be passed through the budget reconciliation process -- and couldn’t be filibustered. To enact a radical change of direction, Republicans need only a simple majority of votes.

Given that stark reality, perhaps I should rephrase my initial question: Why are we spending so much time discussing what Romney did at Bain ... instead of what he will do as president?
Update 5/31: To suggest that the Obama campaign has to choose between a message of hope and one of fear is to frame a false choice.
Here's Obama on the Ryan budget :
This new House Republican budget, however, breaks our bipartisan agreement and proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending. Exactly the area where we’ve already cut the most. And I want to actually go through what it would mean for our country if these cuts were to be spread out evenly. So bear with me. I want to go through this because I don’t think people fully appreciate the nature of this budget.

The year after next, nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each. There would be 1,600 fewer medical grants. Research grants for things likes Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students and teachers.

Investments in clean energy technology that are helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil would be cut by nearly a fifth. If this budget becomes law, and the cuts were applied evenly starting in 2014, over 200,000 children would lose their chance to get an early education in the Head Start program. Two million mothers and young children would be cut from a program that gives them access to healthy food.

There would be 4,500 fewer federal grants at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, financial crime and help secure our borders. Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year. We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food that we eat.

Cuts to the FAA would likely result in more flight cancellations, delays and the complete elimination of air traffic control services in parts of the country. Over time, our weather forecasts would become less accurate because we wouldn’t be able to afford to launch new satellites and that means governors and mayors would have to wait longer to order evacuations in the event of a hurricane.

That’s just a partial sampling of the consequences of this budget. Now, you can anticipate, Republicans may say, well, we’ll avoid some of these cuts since they don’t specify exactly the cuts that they would make. But they can only avoid some of these cuts if they cut even deeper in other areas.

This is math. If they want to make smaller cuts to medical research, that means they’ve got to cut even deeper in funding for things like teaching and law enforcement. The converse is true as well. If they want to protect early childhood education, it will mean further reducing things like financial aid for young people trying to afford college. Perhaps they will never tell us where the knife will fall, but you can be sure that with cuts this deep, there is no secret plan or formula that will be able to protect the investments we need to help our economy grow.

This is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating. These are facts. And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next. If this budget became law by the middle of the century, funding for the kinds of things I just mentioned would have to be cut by about 95 percent. Let me repeat that. Those categories I just mentioned, we would have to cut by 95 percent. As a practical matter, the federal budget would basically amount to whatever’s left of entitlements, defense spending and interest on the national debt, period.

Money for these investments that have traditionally been supported on a bipartisan basis would be practically eliminated. And the same is true for other priorities like transportation, homeland security and veteran programs for the men and women who have risked their lives for this country. This is not an exaggeration. Check it out yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget devastation of the environment to increase oil and mining company profits.