In what the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called  Jon Huntsman’s “last, best shot” to give his flagging campaign some momentum, the former China ambassador released a plan to create jobs. Speaking in New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, Huntsman outlined his ideas, with more detailed points on his website.
Huntsman, a former Utah Governor, positions himself as the sane, mainstream alternative to the wingnuts that make up the rest of the Republican field. But the plan is a compendium of conservative hobbyhorses.
The vast majority of his plan has nothing to do with creating jobs, at least in the short term. He focuses heavily on “regulatory reform,” which sounds like some non-ideological effort to streamline government but is mostly code for pandering to the Tea Party. Huntsman would repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and the Affordable Care Act. He would “Dramatically Rein In The EPA” and “Curb The Excesses”—meaning eviscerate the essential regulatory power— of agencies like the National Labor Relations Board. All of this will please the Koch brothers, but what it has to do with spurring hiring in the near future is unclear, especially since conservatives like to moan about business being unable to hire in a climate of uncertainty. What they mean by uncertainty, it turns out, is if a business owner doesn’t know if his top marginal income tax rate might go up by four points when the Bush tax cuts expire. The uncertainty of proposing enormous alterations to existing law is apparently no problem at all.
Huntsman’s other ideas—such as streamlining drug approval at the FDA, increasing domestic oil drilling, eliminating subsides for foreign oil and expanded free trade—may have some minor job-creation benefits years down the line. They may also have adverse impacts on the environment or consumers’ health. But what they surely will not have is an appreciable effect on the unemployment rate in 2013 if Huntsman were elected.
Huntsman’s plan heavily emphasizes tax reform. His proposals are collectively intended to be revenue neutral. No Republican these days can propose to raise aggregate tax revenue, which is unfortunate, since, as they never tire of pointing out, we have a massive budget deficit. Of course, no Republican has laid out a plan to actually balance the budget entirely through spending cuts.
Our tax code already privileges wealth—in the form of capital gains, for example—over work, which is taxed at a higher rate. Huntsman would exacerbate that inequality by eliminating the tax on capital gains and dividends entirely. Presumably this is intended to spur investment, even though there is no evidence that tax rates affect whether people invest.
Huntsman would also lower income tax rates while eliminating deductions. That’s an idea with merit, but it’s an awfully slow way to grow jobs. “It is important when talking about a jobs plan to ask whether the plan will move the dial to substantially lower unemployment in the next year or two,” says Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “It is hard to see how this plan would. Spending cuts and balancing the budget at 9 percent unemployment is widely and appropriately believed to reduce jobs, not create them.”
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, dismisses Huntsman’s plan as “just Tea Party talking points.”
“We had strong growth with higher taxes—from the 1940s to the ‘70s and in the 1990s—and pathetic growth with lower taxes,” Baker notes. “There has been no flood of regulations in the last decade, despite the Tea Party tirades, so the premise of this plan is a joke.”
And that joke is the economic plan of the most serious Republican candidate.