Sunday, August 19, 2012

Romney-Ryan: Scenes from a marriage

AT A NEWS conference in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday, the candidate who would take over the stewardship of the American economy in January 2013 said he recalled adding charitable donations to the amount he pays in taxes. You can’t add what you give to charities to what you pay in taxes. Not legally, anyway.

There may be no better proof of the heads-is-tails narrative of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign than that breathtaking and curiously underreported statement (most American taxpayers would like to know how that works). It’s just one of the most recent vexing Romney statements of late.

Since yoking up with his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney has been, uh, challenged in deciding just how much daylight there is between his own economic plan and the proposed (and deeply unpopular) Ryan budget. To go from recent interviews and comments on the campaign trail, the candidate himself isn’t sure.

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In January, at the Fox News-Wall Street Journal debate in South Carolina, Romney said the Ryan budget was “absolutely right on.” His praise song got louder on March 20, the day Ryan introduced his budget, Romney told reporters in Chicago that “I applaud it, it’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.”

Fast forward to Aug. 12, the day after Ryan got the nod. Interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Romney took pains to put distance between his plan and Ryan’s. “I have my budget plan that I put out, and that’s the budget plan we’re gonna run on.”

The next day, Romney, quizzed again on the distinctions between his economic vision and that of his running mate, seemed to accentuate the negative. “We’ll take a look at the differences,” he said.

On Tuesday, interviewed on CNN, Romney senior adviser Tara Wall said that Romney-Ryan “is a unified ticket. I think with any ticket and with any personality you have differences. You have differences of viewpoints, you have different ways of handling things," she said. "But I think that they are certainly 100 percent on the same page and on the same path relative to saying that we have to reform Medicare.”

Then on Wednesday, Romney told WBAY, a station in Green Bay, that “Paul Ryan and my plan for Medicare, I think, is the same; if not identical, I think it’s probably close to identical.”

For those of you scoring at home ... good luck.

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FOR ALL THE bobs and weaves and feints and jukes Romney’s attempted to perform this past week, there’s no escaping the fact that, in a nutshell, both the ostensibly revenue-neutral Romney tax plan and the Ryan counterpart endow the rich with tax cuts and eviscerate the middle class with more tax burdens.

Romney, the would-be Houdini of the treasury, proposes to “lower rates and to broaden the tax base so that taxation becomes an instrument for promoting economic growth.” He intends to do this by shutting down various loopholes in the economy.

In a Sunday editorial, The Washington Post said that “[t]he “loopholes” that cost most are deductions and other tax provisions that most Americans consider sensible, if not God-given, rights: tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, which according to the Congressional Budget Office will cost $2 trillion over the next 10 years; for pension and retirement savings ($1.8 trillion); for mortgage interest ($1.6 trillion) and charitable giving ($600 billion). Mr. Romney hasn’t said which of these he would trim or by how much. ...

“In reality, his principles are mutually exclusive: You can’t simultaneously lower tax rates, take in as much money as before and protect the middle class. There may be no politically feasible way, and there’s certainly no politically popular way, to “broaden the base” enough to pay for Mr. Romney’s tax cuts. It’s reasonable to assume that his cuts would, as did President Bush’s, worsen the nation’s deficit.

“Until he’s willing to explain how he would avoid such a result, he has little standing to criticize [President] Obama’s fiscal shortcomings.”

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Despite the sad whiteboard show-and-tell Romney performed last week in Greenville, (when he offered his novel revision of charitable donations), more Americans are kicking the tires of the tandem Romney-Ryan economic prescription, and finding precious little air there.

The nonprofit Economic Policy Institute wrote last week: “Ryan’s budget blueprints impose huge cuts to non-defense spending yet still fail to address long-run fiscal challenges in any serious way. Further, they clearly exacerbate many pressing economic challenges, like restoring full employment, rebuilding the middle class, and curbing health costs. Lastly, they are often simply incomplete or even dishonest, claiming to hold overall revenue levels constant while offering no tax increases to counterbalance very large tax cuts aimed at the highest-income households.”

Back in March, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called the Ryan budget “a remarkable document — one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).”

David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, said much the same in an Aug. 13 op-ed in The New York Times: “Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to 'job creators' (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.” ...

“Mr. Ryan showed his conservative mettle in 2008 when he folded like a lawn chair on the auto bailout and the Wall Street bailout. But the greater hypocrisy is his phony ‘plan’ to solve the entitlements mess by deferring changes to social insurance by at least a decade. ...

“Like his new boss, Mr. Ryan has no serious plan to create jobs. … Mr. Ryan’s plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. And it couldn’t pass even if Republicans were to take the presidency and both houses of Congress.”

And President Obama, ever the rhetorical distiller, called it “trickle-down snake oil” in Iowa on Wednesday.

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BUT THAT’S the view of insiders, wonks and people in high places. There’s another trickle-down in play: the trickle-down of reactions from everyday people in America, who are paying attention regardless of the fact that it’s still August, traditionally the month of indolence and long afternoon maps — when the cognoscenti thinks no one’s listening.

However the Romney-Ryan crew tries to spin it, they’re faced with a rising — and given Stockman’s assessment, possibly bipartisan — tide of skepticism about the Ryan plan as fully articulated and the Romney plan, as fully articulated as possible in four squares on a whiteboard.

Innovator101, commenting Sunday at The Washington Post, isn’t having any: “Romney/Ryan are Bush/Cheney on steroids. … Romney/Ryan economic policies are the same — if not worse — than the deregulate, deregulate, deregulate policies of Bush/Cheney that nearly bankrupted the global economy. But who is Romney going to borrow the money for his GOP spending spree? China has its own economic problems now. Maybe Romney wants US to borrow the money from Bain Capital?

“Government by hedge fund? Enslavement of the masses through usury. And we taxpayers get the privilege of bailing them out again. A vote for Romney/Ryan — that is if you're white and still allowed to vote — is a vote to return to January 2001. It just won't take 8 years for the bottom to fall out this time. Romney/Ryan will have it done in less than 4 years.”

“The choice of Ryan as a running mate virtually assures that the policy choices inherent in [Romney’s] budget will become the centerpiece of the fall campaign,” wrote Mark Blumenthal in The Huffington Post on Aug. 11.

A presidential ticket is something like a marriage. With Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan now pronounced candidate and running mate, with no daylight between them on what ails the national economy, they’re stuck with each other and the defining economic policies each brought into the union. Divorce is not an option. Not before Nov. 7, anyway.

Image credits: Romney: MSNBC. Romney and Ryan, Romney-Ryan logo: From the Romney campaign Web site. Washington Post nameplate: © 2012 The Washington Post Company. Economic Policy Institute logo: © 2012 Economic Policy Institute. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities logo: © 2012 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Snake Oil: Screengrab image from “The Hoaxters,” © 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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