Another day, another economic speech by Mitt Romney. Romney is constantly trying to refocus the campaign on the economy. After being sidetracked by President Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage speech last week, and Romney’s appeal to the religious right  at Liberty University on Saturday, Romney is once again on the attack against Obama’s economic record. Romney’s Tuesday afternoon speech in Des Moines, Iowa, was nominally focused on deficit reduction.
There are plenty of reasons to worry about the rate of job growth in the short term and federal debt accumulation in the long term, but unfortunately Romney’s proposals would make both problems worse. Rather than offer specific investments or incentives to hire now and plausible plans to reduce the deficit later, when the economy is strong enough to withstand spending cuts, Romney offers the same austerity measures that have crippled the recovery in much of Europe.
It’s worse than just that. If Romney specified which tax loopholes he would close and spending he would cut, at least we’d get deficit reduction, if nothing else. It would also allow for an honest debate about the American people’s priorities on taxes, spending and deficit reduction. But he stubbornly refuses, out of cowardice. Specific cuts could trigger opposition, so Romney offers only bromides.
Romney compared the rising federal debt to a “prairie fire” sweeping the nation. “The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama for nearly four years, much of that time with Congress controlled by his own party. And rather than put out the spending fire, he has fed the fire,” said Romney . “He has spent more and borrowed more.”
While technically true, this is a bit misleading. Obama inherited an imbalance between spending and revenue because of tax cuts and wars started by George W. Bush and congressional Republicans. Much of the increase in the deficit since Obama took office can be attributed to increases in mandatory spending such as food stamps and decreases in tax revenue that were caused by the recession he also inherited, rather than any of his policies. While Obama did sign some new spending bills, he also signed the Affordable Care Act, which would reduce the deficit. Romney pledges to repeal the ACA and complains that it cut spending on Medicare.
“The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno,” Romney promised. But how? Romney does not say. He wants to extend the Bush tax cuts, then cut taxes an additional 20 percent and raise spending on defense. All of this increases the deficit.
To pay for all of this and then reduce the deficit from current levels would require drastic cuts in domestic programs. But Romney knows that the American people like the idea of cutting domestic spending more than they like cutting actual programs they rely upon. So he avoids offering any specifics. “Move programs to states or to the private sector where they can be run more efficiently and where we can do a better job helping the people who need our help,” said Romney. “Shut down programs that aren’t working. And streamline everything that’s left.” None of this really means anything. No one is for programs that aren’t working or inefficiencies. Unless you say which programs you believe are not working, or which inefficiencies you will remove, you aren’t really saying anything at all. Romney says he will lead on this issue, but he offers no leadership at all.