Now that Mitt Romney has climbed a mountain of Powerpoint bullets to reassert his status as the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, you may find yourself asking, “Hey, Mr. Romney, how would you control federal spending?” If so, you’re in luck! Romney has a handy answer—a short essay with the SEO-friendly title, “Here Is How I Will Control Federal Spending.”
The first half of the essay might have better been titled “How President Obama, Who Has the Job I Would Like to Have, Didn’t Control Spending, And Should Not Be Re-elected.” But eventually, Romney offers his own zippy prescription for keeping federal spending in check—cut federal spending, cap it at a percentage of GDP, and then pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Cut. Cap. And balance. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Romney doesn’t explicitly support any specific piece of legislation, but Republicans offered a plan with a the exact same catchy moniker over the summer. This very much looks like a reference to that other plan.
Romney’s support of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget is costless and meaningless. When Republicans proposed passing a balanced budget amendment over the summer, they couldn’t explain how they’d get the support of two-thirds of state legislatures that such a measure would require. Neither can Romney. He doesn’t even try.
His proposed spending caps probably don’t mean much either. Obviously, there’s no legislation yet. But if Romney’s cut, cap, and balance plan is anything like the one put forth by House Republicans, it will contain exemptions for three of the biggest drivers of federal spending: Medicare, Social Security, and the war on terror.
Maybe Romney’s plan would have more bite? Doubtful. Yesterday, Romney told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he opposes even the modest defense spending reductions included in the debt deal trigger. Instead, he wants to ensure that defense spending accounts for at least 20 percent of the federal budget. Cutting defense spending, he told the Union Leader, would be “a grave mistake” during a “time of war.”
What about Medicare? Well, what about it? Despite the fact that Medicare is the biggest single driver of the long-term federal debt, Romney’s explanation of how he’d cut spending doesn’t mention the program at all. Oh sure, the former Massachusetts governor claims he’s more than willing to commit to repealing ObamaCare (maybe, possibly, if he has to)—despite signing a law that provided the model for the federal overhaul.
But when it comes to Medicare, he’s not ready for anything so drastic. Quite the opposite. When Romney does talk about Medicare, it’s to criticize President Obama for cutting the program. At a campaign stop in Florida today, he made his position on the program plenty clear, telling the crowd:
There's only one person I know of who has cut Medicare. That is the president of the United States. He cut it by $500 billion and put it into Obama Care, and I will turn that around. That is wrong. So when you see your friends with signs that say keep your hands off our Medicare, they are absolutely right.
In other words, we still don't really know how Romney would attempt to control federal spending. But we have a pretty good idea of how he won't.
This isn't the first time Romney has ducked big policy questions.