The beleaguered Romney campaign has been getting a lot of unsolicited advice in recent days from conservatives eager to help the faltering GOP ticket. A common theme from these sages has been a call for more policy specifics from a campaign so far characterized by vagueness.
“He needs to be bold and specific on the budget debate,” said Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) last week. But ironically, if there’s one area where Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been quite specific, it’s the budget. He’s been surprisingly candid about how he’s going to massively inflate the national debt.
For example, Gov. Romney has been completely upfront about his plan to spend vast new sums on defense. He has proposed a floor on annual defense spending at 4 percent of gross domestic product. Official projections today, however, put defense spending at an average of around 3 percent of GDP a year. So Gov. Romney’s extra percentage point translates into more than $2 trillion in additional spending over the next 10 years. That’s a pretty specific policy proposal.
Gov. Romney has also specifically promised to repeal Obamacare. Whether or not you like the 2010 health care reform law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms that it reduces the deficit—by more than $100 billion in the coming decade and by much more after that. So repealing that law means the country would be $100 billion more in debt. It also means 30 million more people would be without health insurance, allowing insurance companies to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions and reopening the Medicare donut hole.
Finally, there are Gov. Romney’s tax proposals. Much of the fire he’s taken over the last few weeks is related to his refusal to explain the details of his tax plan. That’s not entirely fair, though, as Gov. Romney has been quite specific about one side of his tax plan: the tax cuts. He’s proposed a specific cut in income tax rates, one that would predominantly benefit the rich. He’s proposed several specific cuts in corporate taxation. And he’s proposed a repeal of the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.
All those specifics have measurable impacts on the budget. If you add up all the tax cuts Gov. Romney has promised, they’ll cost around $5 trillion over the coming decade, on top of the expense of extending all of the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this calendar year.
Between his specific spending increases and his specific tax cuts, Gov. Romney has actually proposed policies that would add well more than $7 trillion to the national debt.
So it’s not really true that Gov. Romney won’t get specific. He’s offered a detailed plan to balloon the deficit. Where he’s been lacking, and where he’s been taking deserved criticism, is in describing how he would pay for all that new red ink.
That’s probably because reducing the deficit is hard. It means making difficult choices that are sure to make someone angry. Cutting spending is popular in the abstract, but support quickly fades as soon as you describe exactly what would come under the knife. Likewise, big tax cuts on “job creators” sound good, but the only way to do them and avoid massive deficit increases is to raise taxes on the middle class.
It’s no wonder Gov. Romney won’t get specific about that.
Michael Linden is the Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress.