Throughout the primary season, I made a habit of responding to debate questions and providing a conservative perspective that wasn’t always on display by the Republican candidates. I intended to do the same today, responding to last night’s questions myself, but I think Romney did such a good job that I don’t need to take the reins.
The New York Times claims that the debate offered no clarity, but I disagree. Romney was aggressive. Romney offered specifics. And Romney gave clear, concise answers. The contrast between Romney and Obama was sharp. The following is a recap of Romney’s responses.
What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs?
Romney: My plan has five basic parts:
- Get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about 4 million jobs.
- Open up more trade, particularly in Latin America, crack down on China, if and when they cheat.
- Make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world. We're a far way from that now.
- Get us to a balanced budget.
- Champion small business. It's small business that creates the jobs in America. And over the last four years, small- business people have decided that America may not be the place to open a new business, because new business startups are down to a 30-year low. I know what it takes to get small business growing again, to hire people.
…The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more — if you will, trickle-down government — would work. That's not the right answer for America.
Obama: …And this is where there's a difference, because Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts — that's another trillion dollars — and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign
Romney: First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people…
The people who are having the hard time right now are middle- income Americans. Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They're just being crushed. Middle- income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300… At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up. Food prices are up. Health care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family. Middle-income families are being crushed.
What is the difference? Let's just stay on taxes?
Romney: So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I'd say absolutely not. I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's no economist that can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.
Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it's a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it's just not the case…
And number three, I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families…
What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?
Romney: I think it's not just an economic issue, I think it's a moral issue. I think it's, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives. And the amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.
So how do we deal with it? Well, mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy, they're paying taxes, and you can get the job done that way.
The president would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth. And you could never quite get the job done. I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time. What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it…
Number two, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state.
Number three, I'll make government more efficient and to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way. This is the approach we have to take to get America to a balanced budget.
Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles? Do you support Simpson-Bowles?
Romney: I have my own plan. It's not the same as Simpson- Bowles. But in my view, the president should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it. You've been president four years. You said you'd cut the deficit in half. It's now four years later. We still have trillion-dollar deficits. The CBO says we'll have a trillion-dollar deficit each of the next four years…
Why don't I want to raise taxes on people? And actually, you said it back in 2010… “Look, I'm going to extend the tax policies that we have now; I'm not going to raise taxes on anyone, because when the economy is growing slow like this, when we're in recession, you shouldn't raise taxes on anyone.”
Well, the economy is still growing slow. As a matter of fact, it's growing much more slowly now than when you made that statement. And so if you believe the same thing, you just don't want to raise taxes on people… You raise taxes and you kill jobs. That's why the National Federation of Independent Businesses said your plan will kill 700,000 jobs. I don't want to kill jobs in this environment.
Obama: There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue. He's ruled out revenue.
Romney: Look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That's how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you'll never get there. You'll never balance the budget by raising taxes
Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
Romney: Well, Jim, our seniors depend on these programs, and I know anytime we talk about entitlements, people become concerned that something's going to happen that's going to change their life for the worse… So if you're 60 or around 60 or older, you don't need to listen any further. But for younger people, we need to talk about what changes are going to be occurring…
On Medicare, for current retirees, he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now, he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers. Actually just going to them and saying, “We're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board, everybody's going to get a lower rate.” That's not just going after places where there's abuse. That's saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take anymore Medicare patients under that scenario.
We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take more Medicare patients. We have 4 million people on Medicare Advantage that will lose Medicare Advantage because of those $716 billion in cuts. I can't understand how you can cut Medicare $716 billion for current recipients of Medicare.
And what about the vouchers?
Romney: Number two is for people coming along that are young, what I do to make sure that we can keep Medicare in place for them is to allow them either to choose the current Medicare program or a private plan… They get to choose — and they'll have at least two plans that will be entirely at no cost to them. So they don't have to pay additional money, no additional $6,000. That's not going to happen. They'll have at least two plans.
And by the way, if the government can be as efficient as the private sector and offer premiums that are as low as the private sector, people will be happy to get traditional Medicare or they'll be able to get a private plan. I know my own view is I'd rather have a private plan. I'd just as soon not have the government telling me what kind of health care I get. I'd rather be able to have an insurance company. If I don't like them, I can get rid of them and find a different insurance company. But people make their own choice.
What is your view about the level of federal regulation of the economy right now? Is there too much?
Romney: Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation… Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive.
Look, we have to have regulation on Wall Street. That's why I'd have regulation. But I wouldn't designate five banks as too big to fail and give them a blank check. That's one of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank. It wasn't thought through properly. We need to get rid of that provision because it's killing regional and small banks. They're getting hurt.
Let me mention another regulation in Dodd-Frank. You say we were giving mortgages to people who weren't qualified. That's exactly right. It's one of the reasons for the great financial calamity we had. And so Dodd-Frank correctly says we need to have qualified mortgages, and if you give a mortgage that's not qualified, there are big penalties, except they didn't ever go on and define what a qualified mortgage was.
It's been two years. We don't know what a qualified mortgage is yet. So banks are reluctant to make loans, mortgages. Try and get a mortgage these days. It's hurt the housing market because Dodd-Frank didn't anticipate putting in place the kinds of regulations you have to have. It's not that Dodd-Frank always was wrong with too much regulation. Sometimes they didn't come out with a clear regulation.
Now, let's move to health care where I know there is a clear difference, and that has to do with the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. You want it repealed. You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?
Romney: I sure do. Well, in part, it comes, again, from my experience. You know, I was in New Hampshire. A woman came to me and she said, look, I can't afford insurance for myself or my son. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin, and they said, we're thinking of dropping our insurance, we can't afford it. And the number of small businesses I've gone to that are saying they're dropping insurance because they can't afford it, the cost of health care is just prohibitive. And we've got to deal with cost.
And, unfortunately, when you look at Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office has said it will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance. So it's adding to cost. And as a matter of fact, when the president ran for office, he said that, by this year, he would have brought down the cost of insurance for each family by $2,500 a family. Instead, it's gone up by that amount. So it's expensive. Expensive things hurt families. So that's one reason I don't want it.
Second reason, it cuts $716 billion from Medicare to pay for it. I want to put that money back in Medicare for our seniors.
Number three, it puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have. I don't like that idea.
Fourth, there was a survey done of small businesses across the country, said, what's been the effect of Obamacare on your hiring plans? And three-quarters of them said it makes us less likely to hire people. I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the — at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.
If Obamacare is repealed. How would you replace it?
Romney: Number one, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan. Number two, young people are able to stay on their family plan. That's already offered in the private marketplace. You don't have to have the government mandate that for that to occur.
But let's come back to something the president and I agree on, which is the key task we have in health care is to get the cost down so it's more affordable for families. And then he has as a model for doing that a board of people at the government, an unelected board, appointed board, who are going to decide what kind of treatment you ought to have…
In order to bring the cost of health care down, we don't need to have a board of 15 people telling us what kinds of treatments we should have. We instead need to put insurance plans, providers, hospitals, doctors on target such that they have an incentive, as you say, performance pay, for doing an excellent job, for keeping costs down, and that's happening. Innermountain Healthcare does it superbly well, Mayo Clinic is doing it superbly well, Cleveland Clinic, others.
Obama: It just reminds me of, you know, he says that he's going to close deductions and loopholes for his tax plan. That's how it's going to be paid for, but we don't know the details. He says that he's going to replace Dodd-Frank, Wall Street reform, but we don't know exactly which ones. He won't tell us. He now says he's going to replace Obamacare and ensure that all the good things that are in it are going to be in there and you don't have to worry…
Romney: If I come in and — and lay down a piece of legislation and say, “It's my way or the highway,” I don't get a lot done. What I do is the same way that Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan worked together some years ago. When Ronald Reagan ran for office, he laid out the principles that he was going to foster. He said he was going to lower tax rates. He said he was going to broaden the base…
Those are my principles. I want to bring down the tax burden on middle-income families. And I'm going to work together with Congress to say, OK, what — what are the various ways we could bring down deductions, for instance?
Do you believe there's a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?
Romney: The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America's military.
Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose… We're a nation that believes that we're all children of the same god and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled. We care for them.
Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?
Romney: Well, the primary responsibility for education is at the state and local level. But the federal government also can play a very important role… The federal government can get local and state schools to do a better job.
I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I — these are disabled kids or lower-income kids, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice. So all federal funds, instead of going to the state or to the school district, I'd have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their student.
Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected, in your case, if re-elected, in your case, what would you do about that?
Romney: Jim, I had the great experience — it didn't seem like it at the time — of being elected in a state where my legislature was 87 percent Democrat. And that meant I figured out from day one I had to get along and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done. We drove our schools to be number one in the nation. We cut taxes 19 times.
I'll sit down with leaders — the Democratic leaders, as well as Republican leaders, and continue — as we did in my state — we met every Monday for a couple hours, talked about the issues and the challenges in our state in that case. We have to work on a collaborative basis, not because we're going to compromise our principle, but because there's common ground.
That brings us to closing statements.
Romney: This is an important election and I'm concerned about America. I'm concerned about the direction America has been taking over the last four years. I know this is bigger than an election about the two of us as individuals. It's bigger than our respective parties. It's an election about the course of America. What kind of America do you want to have for yourself and for your children…
There's no question in my mind that if the president were to be reelected you'll continue to see a middle-class squeeze with incomes going down and prices going up. I'll get incomes up again.
You'll see chronic unemployment. We've had 43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent. If I'm president I will create — help create 12 million new jobs in this country with rising incomes.
If the president's reelected, Obamacare will be fully installed. In my view that's going to mean a whole different way of life for people who counted on the insurance plan they had in the past. Many will lose it. You're going to see health premiums go up by some $2,500 per family. If I'm elected we won't have Obamacare. We'll put in place the kind of principles that I put in place in my own state and allow each state to craft their own programs to get people insured and we'll focus on getting the cost of health care down.
If the president were to be reelected you're going to see a $716 billion cut to Medicare. You'll have 4 million people who will lose Medicare Advantage. You'll have hospital and providers that'll no longer accept Medicare patients. I'll restore that $716 billion to Medicare.
And finally, military. The president's reelected you'll see dramatic cuts to our military. The secretary of defense has said these would be even devastating. I will not cut our commitment to our military. I will keep America strong and get America's middle class working again.