I have had a lot of difficulty finding good discussions about the differences in policy between the two men running for President. Ezra Klein reminds me why in post about policy preferences as currently revealed by the two candidates.
Romney’s offerings are more like simulacra of policy proposals. They look, from far away, like policy proposals. They exist on his Web site, under the heading of “Issues,” with subheads like “Tax” and “Health care.” But read closely, they are not policy proposals. They do not include the details necessary to judge Romney’s policy ideas. In many cases, they don’t contain any details at all.
Take taxes. Romney has promised a “permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates,” alongside a grab bag of other goodies, like the end of “the death tax.” Glenn Hubbard, his top economic adviser, has promised that the plan will “broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral.”
It is in the distance between “cut in marginal rates” and “revenue-neutral” that all the policy happens. That is where Romney must choose which deductions to cap or close. It’s where we learn what his plan means for the mortgage-interest deduction, and the tax-free status of employer health plans and the Child Tax Credit. It is where we learn, in other words, what his plan means for people like you and me. And it is empty. Romney does not name even one deduction that he would cap or close. He even admitted, in an interview with CNBC, that his plan “can’t be scored because those details have to be worked out.”
Compare that to Obama’s tax plan, which you can read on pages 37 through 40 of his 2013 budget proposal (though not, it should be said, on his campaign Web site, which is even less detailed than Romney’s). In these pages, Obama tells you exactly how he would like to raise taxes on the rich. He proposes allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for income over $250,000, capping itemized deductions for wealthy Americans at 28 percent, taxing carried interest as ordinary income and more. The total tax increase, compared to current policy, is $1.5 trillion.
Whether you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea to raise taxes on the rich, Obama has told you exactly what he wants to do. Conversely, whether you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea to cut marginal tax rates by broadening the base, Romney hasn’t actually told you what he wants to do…….
Obama’s vision for the health-care system is almost absurdly detailed.
Romney’s plan spans 369 words. He would “promote alternatives to ‘fee for service.’” Which alternatives? It’s a mystery. He would “end tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.” That can mean any of a couple of huge policy changes. It could mean, for the first time ever, that employer-provided health plans are taxed — a massive tax increase. It could mean that all spending on health insurance is made tax free — a giant, and expensive, tax cut. Which is it? Romney doesn’t say.
On financial regulation, Romney would “repeal Dodd-Frank and replace with streamlined, modern regulatory framework.” That is literally his entire plan…..
On deficit reduction, Romney’s plan “requires spending cuts of approximately $500 billion per year in 2016.” He has not released spending cuts that come anywhere close to that goal. He does have some nice words to say about the Ryan budget, but Romney advisers have told the media that their candidate disagrees with large parts of it, including the Medicare cuts.
The comparison to Obama is, again, instructive. Pages 23 through 37 of Obama’s budget detail dozens of spending cuts and tell you how much money they’ll save. You might not like those spending cuts, or you might want to see more. But at least you know the specifics of the president’s plan.
As I follow health care policy most closely, I find this unacceptable. Health care costs are the major source of our long term debt problems. It is consuming ever more of our economy. Someone who has been running for the presidency for over four years, should have some plans. That is also true of financial regulation, debt reduction and tax policy. Romney initially claimed that his plans would give us a growth in jobs of 500,000 per month. He has now backed off of this, claiming his policies will create 250,000 jobs per month, but still no specifics. (500,000 per month has never happened for any extended period.) While I suspect this will be by replicating the policies we had during the Bush administration, which gave us job growth of about 11,000 per month, I do not really know what he intends, except in very vague generalities.
Maybe running as “not Obama” will be good enough to win. Running as “not the crazy one” was sufficient to win the primary. However, it will make for a very tedious election.