Mitt Romney's Economic Plan: Good for a Few Laughs

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By Deborah Solomon

With fewer than six months until Election Day, you would hope the leading candidates for president would have concrete plans for how to deal with the nation's pressing fiscal problems.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, may well have those ideas. But he did little to elucidate them in what was billed as a major economic speech today in Des Moines, Iowa.

Romney certainly painted a dramatic picture, warning Iowans about a "prairie fire of debt" and federal obligations akin to a "nightmare mortgage: adjustable, no money down and assigned to our children."

"Your household's share of government debt and unfunded liabilities has reached more than $520,000 under this president," he said.

His solutions, however, were light on details: Cut government spending, let the private-sector do more, and hand more power to state and local governments.

Romney didn't explain where he'd cut. But he said he'd get overall federal spending to about 20 percent of gross domestic product within four years -- in line with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan and down from today's figure of about 24 percent.

He said he'd move anti-poverty programs -- whose cost he put at more than $600 billion -- to state governments and the private sector, "where they can be run more efficiently."

To make his case, he engaged in a hypothetical about what would happen if the federal government were the sole supplier of cellphones.  "The contract to make them would go to an Obama donor," he said, and they would be "the size of a shoe with a collapsible solar panel attached to them."

It's a funny line. But it doesn't help us understand why we should trust him to fix our fiscal mess. After all, the private-sector's prowess isn't looking too good right now given J.P. Morgan Chase's $2 billion headache.

To fix Social Security -- which will soon begin paying more in benefits than it gets in tax revenue -- Romney said he'd avoid raising taxes by reducing benefits for "high income" retirees. This sounds a lot like the progressive price indexing plan embraced by George W. Bush in 2005. But, again, Romney left out key details such as who qualifies as "high-income" and how much benefits would be curtailed.

And, of course, he said he would repeal Obamacare.

Romney is campaigning on his business credentials and private-sector acumen, telling voters he's the guy who will whip the U.S. budget into shape and restart the economy. If that's the case, Romney should do more than give pabulum campaign promises. He should offer Americans specific details of how he'll turn things around so that voters can decide if he's the one to rescue the U.S. from what he called a "debt and spending inferno."

(Deborah Solomon is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow her on Twitter.)

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-0- May/15/2012 21:09 GMT