Political Animal


October 15, 2012 12:10 PM Debt-a-Ganza

By Ed Kilgore

You never know if this sort of thing is just misdirection, but CNN’s Peter Hamby is reporting today that the “message of the week” for the Romney campaign is very heavy on the debt-and-deficit angle of attack on Obama:

Polls show voters trust Romney over President Barack Obama on the question of who would better handle the national debt, one reason the Romney campaign has launched a new television ad attacking the president on the issue. Romney will also deliver a speech on government spending this Friday.
The Romney campaign circulated talking points to campaign surrogates and allies on Sunday evening, which were provided to CNN by a GOP source who did not want to be identified providing confidential campaign material to the media.

The talking points have the usual blah-blah about Obama’s profligate fiscal policies and responsibility for deficits and debt. A slightly novel twist is the effort to quantify debt service as a “tax increase” (four Gs per taxpayer, Team Mitt somehow says). The suggested rap also is a bit more explicit than is usually the case in making the conservative argument that cutting government spending (a counter-stimulative maneuver by any estimation) will magically lift the economy.

But what I find interesting is that the Romney campaign is hyping Mitt’s own “positive” debt reduction agenda, which is basically the Ryan Budget:

- On day one of his presidency, Mitt Romney will announce deficit-reduction measures that end the era of big government ushered in by President Obama. He will:
- Immediately reduce non-security discretionary spending by 5%
- Move to cap federal spending at 20% of the economy
- Give states responsibility for programs that they can implement more effectively
- Consolidate agencies and align compensation of federal workers with their private-sector counterparts
- Repeal and replace Obamacare with real health care reform that controls costs and improves care.

The “non-defense discretionary” cut required by every version of the Romney and Ryan budgets is actually vastly larger than 5% (over half within ten years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities), and even a more honest number would have to be raised given Mitt’s habit of taking specific programs off the cutting board (e.g., his new enthusiasm for keeping teachers employed). But in any event, Mitt’s throwing some pretty rich bait out there for a counter-attack by drawing attention to his GDP cap, his “devolution” proposals, and his own wildly irresponsible “health care plan.”

In the first presidential debate, Obama mentioned but did not explain the consequences of Romney’s Medicaid block grant proposal, expressed skepticism about Romney’s interest in maintaining any sort of “investments” via domestic discretionary spending, and got too far down in the weeds in seeking to expose Romney’s own health care proposals. I’m guessing he will be more direct and succinct in the second debate, although anticipating what town hall “participants” will ask could be dicey. Still, though, he might be helped significantly if Romney brings up his own most vulnerable proposals first. If nothing else, it will be tough for Mitt to play the genial moderate if it becomes clear his “debt-and-deficits” agenda represents a historic shift in the distributional effect of tax and spending policies.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Rich on October 15, 2012 12:16 PM:

    CNN has always sucked at analysis. Why should this be any different.

  • c u n d gulag on October 15, 2012 12:23 PM:

    I wonder if Obama can borrow Bush's walkie-talkie suit for the last two debates, and have Biden give him the talking points.

    The most pathetic thing I can say about this country, is that if Obama was a white man, this race wouldn’t even be close, and he would win in a landslide.

    Not every Republican is a racist, sexist, xenophobic and/or homophobic bigot.

    But every racist, sexist, xenophobic and/or homophobic bigot, is a Republican.

    Let’s just hope that there’s less than 49.99999% of them that show up on Election Day.

  • Mimikatz on October 15, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Obama needs to make it clear that government does create jobs, whether by directly employing people, by contracting to buy goods and services and by underwriting projects like roads and bridges. Cut these and you are cutting employment. And as we saw when state and local governments laid people off, this exacerbates a recession. Cutting spending cuts jobs, it doesn't create them. Just look at Europe. The time to cut is when things get better.

    Plus, the point of Romney-Ryan's cuts is to finance tax cuts for the vy rich. He can just channel Ed's last post.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 15, 2012 12:34 PM:

    Hummsies... maybe I'm not that sophisticated regarding the national debt topic, buuuuuut I can't take seriously Romney's claim to reduce the deficit as long as he's trying to give Defense $2 trillion. But I could be a complete ignoramus on this subject. I'm still just sayin'...

    Sounds like a let's-just-gut-shit plan, or worse yet a let's-strangle-the-baby-so-we-can-stop-spending-all-this-dang-money-to-feed-it plan.

  • jjm on October 15, 2012 12:37 PM:

    And guess what? The deficit doesn't seem to matter all that much to the people. They know it's origins in the Bush years, even though Mitt's disdain for us is as palpable as his undeserved disdain for Obama during the debate.

    (One commenter on a blog told a story that a black customer of his, discussing the debate, said that Romney 'boyed' Obama -- meaning he exuded disdain for him, to show his superiority. He also said that black people instantly recognized this -- and the Mexican American commenters concurred. Americans and their pundits all fell for this old racist trick.)

  • schtick on October 15, 2012 12:56 PM:

    I just got an application for an absentee ballot with teapub ads all over it about the deficit and I need to vote against all this reckless government management. It had the teapub committee listed on there and the address was to the election boards, which I found surprising, but then, I'm independent.

    crapcha....still RandeR....it is.

  • Ron Byers on October 15, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Anybody in the media ever notice that Romney's proposals explode the deficit.

  • SecularAnimist on October 15, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Romney talking point: "... the era of big government ushered in by President Obama ..."

    Stop. Right. There.

    That's a blatant lie.

    Which means the rest of the talking points are "solutions" to a "problem" that doesn't exist.

    Eight years of Bush/Cheney policies -- including massive tax cuts for the richest one percent of Americans, and two unfunded wars, one of which was completely based on deliberate lies -- drove this country into the economic ditch that Obama is still trying to get us out of four years later. And Obama's efforts have focused far more on TAX CUTS than on spending. And in fact, far from being a "big spender", Obama has been just about the "smallest spender" in modern US history.

    Obama had damned well better start calling Romney and Ryan LIARS -- clearly, unequivocally, forcefully and frequently.

    Because the bought-and-paid-for corporate stooges of the bought-and-paid-for corporate media (exemplified by CNN) are sure not going to do it.

  • golack on October 15, 2012 2:21 PM:

    Defense spending is his jobs program...though mainly jobs for lobbyists...

    But read those bullet points again, without a jaded eye...

    Reduce discretionary spending...well, if it's discretionary, we really don't need it in the first place

    Cap federal spending to 20% of the economy....well, that sounds pretty high to me

    Give states control of programs they can administer more effectively...no brainer there

    Consolidate agencies and match pay to private sector...again, no brainer--shouldn't be overpaying bureaucrats

    Repeal and replace Obamacare and introduce reform to control costs and improve care...well my healthcare costs went up and I'm all for better care, so definitely needed.

    Can you counter that with a bumper sticker???? And Romney can truly say he won't be cutting benefits for anyone by cutting budgets--it's the individual states make that decision

  • Nancy Cadet on October 15, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Bloomberg has a report on the US deficit dropping to a Smaller percentage of GDP , the lowest since 2006. So this sounds like positive news, but of course Romney-Ryan will keep lying to the low information voters, and the passive stenographers among the media will relay it.

  • Peter C on October 15, 2012 2:26 PM:

    The debt and deficit have only ever been clubs to beat Democrats with. No one who REALLY cared about the deficit would support the Ryan plan which guts social services without reducing the deficit one jot.

    If either the debt or the deficit were short-term problems, then interest rates would be really high; that is how debt hurts - by driving up interest rates.

    The Republicans attack on the deficit because the Democrats have decidied it is too complicated to explain, and it is MUCH easier to frighten than to reassure. This is why the Republicans attack on EVERYTHING. In this case, they have the top-line number on their side. Between that and their willingness to lie their asses off, they have a good chance of conning an easily confused and worried electorate.

    My hope is that Obama comes off as greatly more trust-worthy and genuine.

  • jpeckjr on October 15, 2012 3:53 PM:

    First day plans: if he tries all those things on the "first day," he's likely to find there is another branch of government that has to be involved -- Congress. And another level of government involved -- States. Because every one of those things will require legislation which, oh my goodnesss, the Founders assigned to Congress. It was their original intent the the Legislative Branch represent the people.