Between now and the presidential election in November, Mitt Romney has a mission: He needs to draw a contrast between the policies he'd support as president the policies that President Obama has already supported. The contrast of particular plans is designed to reinforce the contrast of visions.
So let's try a little compare and contrast.
At a speech in Des Moines today, Romney plans to launch a harsh attack on the president's governance, according to excerpts released by the campaign. Here's how he'll criticize the stimulus plan:
"President Obama started his days in office with the trillion-dollar stimulus package – the biggest, most careless one-time expenditure by the federal government in history. And remember this: the stimulus wasn't just wasted – it was borrowed and wasted. We still owe the money, we're still paying interest on it, and it'll be that way long after this presidency ends in January."
How bad does Mitt Romney think Obama's stimulus was for America? So bad that Romney would have done…well, pretty much the same thing, but with a somewhat different mix of taxes and spending.
In his 2010 book, No Apology, Romney argued that following the $152 billion stimulus package signed by President Bush in the summer of 2008, "a second stimulus was called for." Under Obama that's obviously what we got. And you know what Romney thought about that stimulus package? It wasn't too bad. Although Romney would have preferred that a second stimulus be passed under Bush, who "understood much more than [Democrats] the crucial role played by tax cuts," the former Massachusetts governor wrote in his book that "the 'all-Democrat' stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery"—just "not as much as it could have" if the stimulus plan was designed the way that Romney would have preferred.
Despite his attacks on Obama's "trillion-dollar stimulus package," Romney doesn't have a problem with large-scale federal stimulus spending. He just wants it done his way. As he writes in the book, "every stimulus should be crafted with care and exactitude." That's the Romney difference you can taste in every bite: He'd have passed a second stimulus tweaked to look more like the sort of stimulus that George Bush would have endorsed.
And then there's ObamaCare. Romney plans to criticize the president's 2010 health care overhaul too:
"Then there was Obamacare. Even now nobody knows the exact cost of that new program. And that uncertainty has done great harm to our economy. Employers aren't hiring, entrepreneurs are worried, all because of a massive, European-style entitlement that Americans didn't want and can't afford.
That's one way to describe the health law signed by Obama. Another way to describe it might be as "a massive, Massachusetts-style entitlement that Romney signed into law as governor and that is so expensive that the state's liberal governing class now worries is unaffordable on its current trajectory." In all its major components, the state health care plan that Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts is virtually identical to the federal plan signed by President Obama: middle-class insurance subsidies, a massive expansion of Medicaid, and a mandate. The big difference here is that Romney relied on generous special help from the federal government to pay for it.
And yet the state still can't afford its health care obligations. Between the subsidies and the Medicaid Massachusetts has a serious health spending problem, and devotes a higher share of its public budget to health spending than any other state. The Chairman of the Bay State's Joint Committee on Public Health has warned that the state's existing health spending commitments are "unsustainable." A representative from the state's finance office issued told local legislators that health spending in Massachusetts "is crowding out everything else state government needs to do" and that "the growth trend in health care costs threaten the very viability of government." So Romney is warning that the president's health law will be expensive and potentially unaffordable—just like the one Romney signed when he was governor. The contrast of visions really is striking.