Back to the Bush future!

Romney reunited W.'s economic advisers to draft a plan that looks eerily familiar

By Andrew Leonard
Published August 8, 2012 8:30PM (UTC)
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(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

How exciting! George W. Bush's campaign has released a new white paper on the economy.

No, wait, that can't be right -- sorry, it's the Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs. I apologize for the confusion, but perhaps you'll forgive my mistake -- the four economists who co-authored the white paper are Glenn Hubbard, who chaired Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2001-2003; Greg Mankiw, who occupied that same office from 2003-2005; John Taylor, Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs during Bush's first term; and Kevin Hassett, a campaign adviser for Bush in 2004 about whom the less said the better.


So remember, when you hear Romney's economic program described as the policies of the Bush administration, "just updated," it is not a joke. A travesty, maybe, considering the manifest disaster that was the Bush administration, but not a joke.

In an election year sorely devoid of real news, I was all prepared to go to town on this white paper. At last -- some details on what Romney actually plans to do! I feel Romney's pain when his agenda is defined by his opponents or non-partisan think tanks: Let the man speak for himself, for goodness' sake!

But after reading the eight-page white paper, I have to confess to being pummeled back into the same familiar mode of stupefaction that has been my default state while witnessing Romney's Back to the Bush Future economic program. The plan is ... well, there is no plan.


The bulk of the white paper is devoted to criticizing Obama for failing to spark a stronger recovery. Fair enough, if hardly novel. Brad DeLong has taken the trouble to do a point-by-point demolition of the critique, and cogent economic bloggers like Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent have likewise pulled out their poison pens to savage effect. But all that is old news -- we've been having this argument from day one. It's fun to watch people like Mankiw and Hubbard change their opinions to match current needs, but still, what I want to know -- what everybody wants to know, is what Romney will do that is different.

Well, here, for better or worse is the totality of Romney's economic recovery plan: his "policy agenda focused on job creation, rising incomes, and broadly shared prosperity."

Stop Runaway Federal Spending And Debt.

  • Reduce federal spending as a share of GDP to 20 percent – its pre-crisis average – by 2016.
  • In so doing, reduce policy uncertainty over the need for future tax increases.

Reform The Nation’s Tax Code To Increase Growth And Job Creation.

  • Reduce individual marginal income tax rates across-the-board by 20 percent, while keeping current low tax rates on dividends and capital gains. Reduce the corporate income tax rate – the highest in the world – to 25 percent.
  • Broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral.

Reform Entitlement Programs To Ensure Their Viability.

  • Gradually reduce growth in Social Security and Medicare benefits for more affluent seniors. Give more choice in Medicare to improve value in health care spending
  • Block grant the Medicaid program to states, enabling experimentation to better fit local situations.

Make Growth And Cost-Benefit Analysis Important Features Of Regulation.

  • Remove regulatory impediments to energy production and innovation that raise costs to consumers and limit job creation.
  • Repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Romney alternatives will emphasize better financial regulation and market-oriented, patient-centered health care reform.

Notice anything missing? How about details? Romney's plan does not include any details on what he would cut to bring spending down. He doesn't say what tax breaks or deductions he would end to keep tax reform revenue-neutral. He doesn't say what his "alternatives" to Dodd-Frank and ACA are that would be "better" and more "market-oriented." We can't analyze this plan. The Congressional Budget Office can't "score" it -- that is, tell us what it would cost or how it would affect government finances, because there is nothing to score.


The only domain in which there is a semblance of a plan is his Paul Ryan-inspired agenda for Medicare and Medicaid, but we already knew that was in the works.

This is a disgrace. We're less than four months away from an election, and Romney's top four economic advisers, men with ample experience in government, have released a white paper for economic recovery that amounts to nothing more than waving a magic wand and saying: It will all be better, because we say so.


Cutting spending and reforming tax policy, not to mention overhauling financial sector regulation and healthcare, require making hard choices and trade-offs. They are not easy. Even if, for example, Romney does have a plan that will cut taxes and yet remain revenue neutral, achieving that magic trick while reducing federal spending without further exacerbating the budget deficit would be miraculous.

Romney has been running for president for at least six years. Is it too much to ask that he provide an economic plan that actually has some meat on its bones?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2012 Elections Kevin Hassett Mitt Romney U.s. Economy