Debt-a-Ganza

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

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.