Why Romney Can't Make the Bold Move

Scott Lehigh wrote a great column today, trying to give Mitt Romney some advice that might help bring oxygen to a campaign turning blue. Lehigh made the common sense suggestion that Romney immediately call for the adoption of Simpson-Bowles in a move to capture the political center and show that he had the guts to make proposals that would not sit well with the base.

The best way to bounce back is with a big, bold move, one that burnishes Romney’s image as someone serious about solving the nation’s budgetary problems, while letting him seize the political center.

That move? Endorsing the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. Doing so wouldn’t just steal a march on President Obama. It would establish Romney as someone courageous enough to tell hard truths about what will be required to address our fiscal problems.

Lets face it, if Romney had that type of courage or political sense he might not be in the mess he is in today. The Lehigh advice has been given on the other side of the spectrum by David Brooks, who suggested that President Obama make a bold move to the center by endorsing that very same Simpson-Bowles framework.

Personally, I wish Obama would use this convention to embrace Bowles-Simpson. That would lay the foundation for decades of prosperity. It would galvanize a new center-left majority.

So the columnists of reason urge both candidates to adopt Simpson-Bowles. Why not? Let’s take a look at Mitt.

Romney and his team have determined, rightly or wrongly, that this will be a base election. And we know that the Republican base will not tolerate “tax increases”, even when coupled with real spending reductions. (Simpson-Bowles has about $3 in cuts to every dollar in revenue increases, a far cry from the $10 in cuts to $1 in revenues that EVERY Republican Presidential candidate indicated they would turn down). Paul Ryan, a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, actually joined every Republican House member of the Commission in voting against the final report. If the Republicans are deficit hawks, as they claim, then they must have an even more serious deficit reduction plan than Simpson-Bowles???? Well, when you just take a cursory look at the numbers you see that the Romney/Ryan plan (Ryan/Romney???) actually would add trillions to the deficit, and would do so to not only extend the Bush tax cuts, but to reduce marginal tax rates even beyond the Bush rates. How would they pay? They will get back to us on that.

All of that still doesn’t answer the Lehigh question. But the truth is that any policy that places deficit reduction in front of further tax cuts must be jettisoned by Romney and the Republicans. The central dogma of today’s Republican Party is that tax cuts come first, and deficit reduction is simply a tool to try to attract that independent voter who might actually care about our fiscal future. I have not given citations for the above paragraph, but they will come in future posts. Some validation of this view comes from the long held position of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, who have long argued that Republicans ought to stay away from advocating deficit reduction, as they would not be able to finance the necessary tax cuts called for by the Journal under a system where such cuts needed to be “scored” for their impact on the federal deficit. Dick Cheney’s observation that “deficits don’t matter”, often reported as an offhanded aside, is actually reflective of this view. Nope, Mitt Romney won’t be taking the advice of Scott Lehigh anytime soon. He will rise or fall on the tax cuts that, if enacted, would blow an even bigger hole in our budget than exists today.

 

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