Romney's Not-So Secret Plan

One of the more frustrating aspects of this year's Republican primary was the utter lack of specificity in candidates' proposals. It turns out this was a strategic decision. In an interview with the Weekly Standard last month, Romney said:

“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”

Romney is basically refusing to disclose his plans after voters didn't like what they heard the last time. More generally, the former Massachusetts governor has done his best to keep those specific plans secret, but a few details accidentally slipped out over the weekend. The presumptive Republican nominee visited Florida for a fundraiser and shut out the press from his private conversation with high-dollar donors. But his speech was loud enough that it could be heard by the journalists milling about outside on the public sidewalk. In the speech, Romney laid out a few concrete plans for reforming government agencies and the tax code. He pledged to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development but keep the lights on at the Department of Education in order to fight against teachers' unions.

The more interesting segment is Romney's ideas for eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy. He said that high-income earners would no long receive a second mortgage tax deduction or exemptions from state taxes. As Slate's Matt Yglesias says, "The most telling moment was the extreme timidity of even the 'secret' agenda on taxes." Closing these loopholes for the wealthy is a sound policy decision but is only a drop in the bucket for federal tax expenditures. These moves wouldn't raise nearly enough revenue to offset the across-the-board tax cuts Romney has proposed.

Even when Romney believes he is speaking in an off-the-record setting, he cannot delineate how his plans would actually work. It helps justify the liberal skepticism on Paul Ryan's budget when the GOP congressman claims that he can find enough tax expenditures to wipe off the books to offset his tax cuts for the wealthy. Technically there are enough programs that this would be possible, but many are politically popular—even among the government hating GOP—and Ryan has been cagey about providing a specific list.

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