Mitt Romney's Big Economics Speech: Can He Deliver 'Big Change?'

By Trumbull, Mark | The Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mitt Romney's Big Economics Speech: Can He Deliver 'Big Change?'


Trumbull, Mark, The Christian Science Monitor


Mitt Romney pledged Friday that he can deliver policy changes that bring the economy "roaring back."

That assertion, made in an economics speech to voters in Iowa, came amid news that the US economy still is growing at a slow pace: an annual rate of 2 percent, according to the Commerce Department's preliminary gauge of activity in the year's third quarter.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Romney framed his remarks with a rebuke of the Obama presidency.

"President Obama frequently reminds us that he inherited a troubled economy," Romney said. But he also "inherited the most productive and innovative nation in history. He inherited the largest economy in the world.... What he inherited wasn't the only problem; what he did with what he inherited made the problem worse."

Romney said Friday his own plan would bring not only jobs but also control the rising national debt by setting a new tone of bipartisanship, restraining federal spending, and reforming entitlements.

But as voters know, that's a tall order. Is his promise of sweeping fiscal reform credible?

The answer may be a "good news, bad news" story. On the positive side, it appears likely that whoever wins will face public and financial-market pressure to address the nation's fiscal problems. And many economists embrace a basic tenet of Romney's plan: to focus on generating economic growth, not solely on closing budget deficits in Washington.

On the negative side, however, are some serious doubts. Independent finance experts have asserted that Romney's fiscal plans are math-challenged. And even if his desire to work "across the aisle" is sincere, some analysts question whether he could deliver bipartisan cooperation, given the rigid party lines visible in Congress on issues like taxes.

"I know it because I have seen it," Romney said, referring to bipartisanship during his years as a state governor working with a Democratic legislature. "Good Democrats can come together with good Republicans to solve big problems. What we need is leadership."

In Washington today, that leadership will have to come from more than just the president. For embers of bipartisanship to rekindle, it will also require some effort by members of both parties in Congress.

It appears likely that Republicans will continue to control the House with most of them having signed a pledge not to raise new tax revenue. The Senate will probably continue to be beyond the filibuster-proof control of either party perhaps with Democrats retaining the majority. Democrats widely want a fiscal solution that includes some new tax revenue alongside spending cuts, and more US voters align with that view than with the no-new-revenue view.

That gets back to an aspect of the political climate that's more supportive of fiscal change: There's growing pressure to accomplish it.

One sign came this week as more than 80 CEOs of large corporations joined a nonpartisan campaign called "Fix the Debt," designed as an alarm bell for both political parties to control government borrowing. Some 300,000 Americans have signed the group's petition.

Meanwhile, two deadlines loom that will force Congress to consider tax and spending policies: the need to raise the official "debt limit" (an artificial barrier to borrowing set by lawmakers), and the "fiscal cliff." The cliff comes at year-end, when Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire even as across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.

The fiscal cliff represents the threat of too-sudden fiscal discipline, which could hit the economy with a steep drop in consumption as consumers get hit with higher taxes, and as federal spending cuts contribute to a slowdown in business activity. If Romney wants the economy to be "roaring back" in 2013, economists say that avoiding the full impact of the cliff is important.

At the same time, though, the cliff and debt-limit bargaining could create a moment for both parties to seek a longer-term deal that would prevent fiscal "austerity" in the short run while setting a course for lower deficits in the future. …

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