Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mitt Romney on Economic Policy

This is the second in a series of entries revisiting Mitt Romney's policies as stated in the debates. The first covered foreign policy, including immigration, trade and defense, as well as policies toward some specific countries and regions. This entry covers Romney's seven-point plan for economic growth (which he outlined in whole or in part in the 3rd, 6th, 7th, 17th and 19th debates) and the connected policy areas.

1: Taxes

Romney's position on taxes changed from debate to debate. For example, in the 3rd debate, he said, "I don't believe in raising taxes" and indicated he would walk away from a deal with Democrats offering a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes. But in the 4th debate, he said taxes should be "part of the American experience," so he was not concerned about raising taxes on those who do not pay federal income taxes. In the 8th debate, in Nevada, he advocated a state-level redistribution tax tied to acceptance of a nuclear waste facility. The state that built the facility would receive the money while the other 49 would pay the tax.

In the 16th debate he said the top tax bracket should be 25%, while in the 20th debate, he wanted to cut all marginal rates by 20%. Taken at face value, that would turn the current tax brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% into brackets of 8%, 12%, 20%, 22.4%, 26.4% and 28% (assuming the Bush cuts are kept in place and the 2013 tax cliff is avoided), with two brackets higher than 25%.

He would cut the corporate tax rate to 25% to make it more competitive with other countries. When combined with state corporate taxes, this would move us from the highest rate to the 8th highest rate among the 34 OECD countries. He would also eliminate taxes on savings for people with incomes less than $200,000.

2: Regulations

He said he wants to improve the regulatory climate, and specifically mentioned Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and NLRB actions such as going after Boeing as regulations that are hurting businesses and preventing job creation.

He also wants to require every business to prove the legal immigration status of new hires through a national identification card connected to the federal E-Verify database. Any business that hires someone without the card or that accepts a counterfeit card would be "severely sanctioned."

3: Trade

I covered Romney's trade policy in the first entry in this series. It primarily consists of "cracking down on China," but he also advocated expanding our exports.

4: Energy

Romney said in the 8th debate, "We're an energy-rich nation that's acting like an energy-poor nation." He focuses on energy security-- getting our energy from domestic sources rather than importing them. In the 4th debate, he said he wanted to "make sure we stop sending about $500 billion a year outside our country, in many cases to nations that are not real friendly with ours." However, he does support the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

To accomplish his goal of increased domestic production, he wants to reduce regulations on energy companies, especially oil and gas. At the same time, he has criticized Obama for subsidies to Solyndra and other alternative energy programs, indicating a general laissez-faire approach to energy. On the other hand, in line with his focus on domestic energy sources, he said he was willing to accept more expensive gasoline if that was the result of the "crippling sanctions" he wanted to place on Iran.

5: Rule of Law

While Romney often spoke of the fifth point as reinstating the rule of law, his focus with this point early on was labor policy. He viewed pro-union actions by the Obama administration as violations of the rule of law, in particular citing the GM bankruptcy and the NLRB case against Boeing. Romney believes the auto companies should have gone through the normal legal bankruptcy process from the beginning, saying in the 2nd debate that the GM bankruptcy allowed Obama to "put his hands on the scales of justice." However, in the 20th debate, he indicated he would be willing to bail out the auto companies after they've gone through a normal bankruptcy process, saying, "If they need help coming out of bankruptcy, the government can provide guarantees and get them back on their feet. No way would we allow the auto industry in America to totally implode and disappear." (Note that these positions on the auto bailout have apparently already been Etch-a-Sketched.) He also supports a federal right-to-work law.

In later debates he broadened the "rule of law" point to an opposition of "crony capitalism," citing Solyndra and the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline as examples. Since I think it's appropriate, I'll include here a few positions from even broader interpretation of "the rule of law."

Judicial Oversight: Romney does not want Congress to oversee judges directly in most cases, but he does believe Congress has the ability to "rein in excessive judges" (from the 13th debate) either through direct impeachment or by clarifying statutes or, of course, Constitutional amendment.

Extrajudicial Killings: In the 11th debate, he said there is "a different form of law" for those who "attack the United States" compared to those who merely commit crimes against American citizens. In the 10th, he said that anyone who joins a force we are at war with is "fair game" even if they are an American citizen. In the 16th debate, he said, "Let me tell you, people who join al Qaeda are not entitled to rights of due process under our normal legal code."

Indefinite Detention: In the 16th debate, he not only said he would have signed the NDAA, which authorized indefinite detention of American citizens, but also defended indefinite detention itself. He would have signed the NDAA not just as a flawed bill that would still get funding to the troops, but because he believes indefinite detention of American citizens is, in itself, a good policy.

Eminent Domain: In the 2nd debate, he said he believed in eminent domain for "a public purpose" but not for property that would end up going to private organizations.

SOPA: He opposed SOPA and considered opposition to SOPA to be "standing for freedom" in the 17th debate. 

6: Education

In the 6th debate, he said, "We need to get the federal government out of education." He supports school choice and standardized testing. When accused by Perry of supporting Obama's Race to the Top program, which uses funding incentives to reward school systems for meeting certain goals, Romney said he did not support Race to the Top, but did support teacher evaluations and encouraging schools to hire better teachers and get rid of bad teachers. In the 20th debate, he supported No Child Left Behind because it stood up to the teachers unions and promoted school choice by establishing testing standards.

He also supports allowing illegal immigrant children to gain citizenship through military service, but not through attending college. He also frequently cited his policy requiring English immersion in Massachusetts schools as an example of how conservative he is.

7: Fiscal Responsibility

In general, Romney believes government should not spend more than it takes in. He frequently talked about the Cut, Cap and Balance plan-- cutting current spending, capping federal spending at 20% of GDP and thus balancing the budget through spending cuts rather than tax increases-- mentioning it in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th and 20th debates.

He often cited repealing Obamacare as a way he would cut spending, but also complained that money was being cut from defense to pay for Obamacare, and that he wanted to spend the money on defense instead. As mentioned in the previous entry on Romney's positions on foreign policy, he wants to increase defense spending.

Other ways he proposed to cut spending include returning discretionary spending back to its 2008 level, cutting federal employment by 10% through attrition, linking public sector compensation to private sector wages, eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, including public broadcasting, and block granting several programs, such as Medicaid, housing and food stamps, to the states. However, he would walk away from a deal with Democrats offering a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes.

He gave the impression that he would support spending-based stimulus, saying that the recovery was slow partly because we had "a stimulus plan that was not as well-directed as it should have been."

On Social Security, he said in the 4th debate, "Under no circumstances would I ever say, by any measure, it's a failure," because there are "tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security." He made similar points again in the 5th and 6th debates. In the 16th debate, he said he would keep Social Security the way it is for those 55 and older. For the rest of us, he would apply two different inflation adjustments, a lower one for the rich and a higher one for everyone else. He would also raise the retirement age "a year or two," but for the most part would keep the system in place the way it is today.

Other Economic Policies

The Fed: He would not reappoint Bernanke, and believes the Fed should be less independent and have more Congressional oversight. But contrary to Ron Paul, he argued in the 5th debate that "we need to have a Fed… because if we don't have a Fed, who's going to run the currency, Congress?"

Housing: He wants to block grant federal housing programs to the states. In the 9th debate, he said we have a housing crisis because government was too involved in housing, and that when government is the problem, more government is not the solution. However, in the 18th debate, he added that he wanted to "help people see if they can't get more flexibility from their banks," although he didn't say how he would use government to make that happen.

Poverty: He wants a personal unemployment account system rather than the current unemployment benefits system. He wants most anti-poverty programs to be run at the state level through block grants, specifically mentioning food stamps, Medicaid and housing programs. 

Pro-Market Quotes

In the 13th debate, asked what industries will create the most jobs in the next few years, he says, "The free market will decide that; government won't."

In the 17th debate, he said, "My view is, capitalism works. Free enterprise works."

Anti-Market Quotes

In the 18th debate, he said, "Markets have to have regulation to work-- you can't have everybody open up a bank in their garage."

In the 20th debate, he said, "That's the nature of what it is when you lead an organization or a state. You come to Congress and you say, these are the things we need."

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