In Las Vegas last week, Mitt Romney looked to his own biography in proposing a new requirement for anyone seeking the presidency:
"In addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I'd like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before becoming president of the United States."
Of course, if Mitt Romney had his way, the President should also have an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School. He ought to have made millions in the private sector and earned notoriety for running a high-profile sports enterprise. A scion of a proud Republican family, the occupant of the White House should promise massive, Treasury-draining tax cuts which would deliver the lion's share of their benefits to the very richest Americans, himself and his family included. The President should also nevertheless pledge to balance the budget even while boosting defense spending. And in his ideal America, he would like to privatize Social Security and leave Americans to fend for themselves in the private health insurance marketplace.
If that profile sounds like Mitt Romney, that's because it is. Then again, the same description also applies to America's First MBA President*, George W. Bush. And we all know how well that worked out.
(Click a link to jump to the details for each below the fold):
- Big Tax Cuts and Bigger Debt
- Another Windfall for the Wealthy
- Social Security Privatization
- The Bush Health Plan on Steroids
- Defense Spending and National Security
- Of and For the Haves - and the Have Mores
In April, the RNC's Alexandra Franceschi gave away the game when she explained that Romney's 2012 GOP economic platform would be the Bush program, "just updated." If anything, she understated the disturbing similarities between the two HBS grads.
Starting, for example, with taxes and debt. After Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt, George W. Bush doubled it again. During his tenure, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 drained $2.5 trillion from the U.S. Treasury, accounting for half the deficits he produced. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, over the next decade, the debt due to revenue lost to the Bush tax cuts, if made permanent, would exceed the price tag for TARP, the Obama stimulus, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ... combined.
As it turns out, Mitt Romney's scheme to "Cut, Cap and Balance" the federal budget does nothing of the sort. As ThinkProgress explained:
Romney's claim that his plan would promote job and economic growth while reducing the deficit is also likely false. The Bush tax cuts were promoted under the same guise, only to blow a $2.5-trillion hole in the federal budget that was accompanied by worst performance of any post-war expansion" for growth in investment, GDP, and job creation. Romney's tax cuts are even more expensive, clocking in at a cost of more than $10.7 trillion over the next decade and reducing revenue to a paltry 15 percent of GDP, according to Linden. Balancing the budget on those terms, as Romney claims he will do, would be next to impossible.
Romney's proposal for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut on top of making Bush's tax cuts permanent, would produce a $600 billion shortfall in 2015 alone. As The Washington Post explained in its discussion of an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, "until the campaign offers a more specific plan, Budget Watch analysts said Romney's entire framework would add about $2.6 trillion to the debt by 2021." But as Romney admitted in March, he's too afraid to do that:
"So I haven't laid out all of the details about how we're going to deal with each deduction, so I think it's kind of interesting for the groups to try and score it, because frankly it can't be scored, because those kinds of details will have to be worked out with Congress, and we have a wide array of options."
Of course Romney, like Bush before him, isn't afraid of dramatically expanding the income gap. At a time of record income inequality, the lowest federal tax burden in 60 years, Mitt would widen the chasm further. After the Bush tax cuts handed a third of their benefits to the wealthiest one percent of earners, Romney would give 60 percent of the benefits from his tax cuts to the same privileged few. As it turns out, Mitt wouldn't merely be cutting his own tax bill by an estimated $4 million a year. By following in Dubya's footsteps in seeking to eliminate the inheritance income tax, the $250 million Mitt would guarantee his heirs an $80 million windfall, courtesy of all other U.S. taxpayers.
On Social Security, too, George Bush and Mitt Romney see eye to eye. Bush, as you'll recall, tried and utterly failed to partially privatize Social Security. (As President Bush explained to a January 2005 town hall meeting with an African-American audience, "Another interesting idea ... is a personal savings account ... which can't be used to bet on the lottery, or a dice game, or the track.")
For his part, Governor Romney has tried to run away from the wildly unpopular privatization scheme, repeatedly telling a New Hampshire crowd "I didn't mention that." But while Mitt now claims only "when it comes to Social Security, we will slowly raise the retirement age [and] we will slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees," in the past Romney was a fervent advocate of Bush's disgraced plan. As ThinkProgress has documented at length, for years Mitt Romney supported the very private accounts he now pretends to oppose.
In his 2010 book, No Apology, Governor Romney proclaimed, "I also like the fact the individual retirement accounts would encourage more Americans to invest in the private sector that powers our economy." During a 2008 GOP presidential debate, Romney explained that "the president said let's have private accounts and take that surplus money that's being gathered now in Social Security and put that into private accounts. That works." The year before, Mitt frequently repeated his preference for private accounts:
June 2007: When a college student asked Romney how he, as president, planned to solidify Social Security's future, he endorsed private accounts: "One thing that the president proposed [on Social Security] that is a good idea is to take some of that money, or all of that surplus money and allow people to have a personal account. So they can invest in things that have a higher rate of return than just government debt. They can invest in things like our stock market or the world's stock market...so that they can get a better return, and maybe that would make up for some of the shortfall. That's a good idea."
As it turns out, Mitt Romney—or at least the 2012 edition of him—is largely recycling President Bush's disastrous prescription for health care. Despite the clear success of his popular Massachusetts program in reducing both the ranks of the insured and the rate of growth of costs, Romney has largely repackaged Bush's stillborn proposals. That litany includes selling insurance across state lines, enacting draconian curbs on malpractice awards, supporting tax-free health savings accounts (HSAs) and, most importantly, giving tax breaks to private insurance while ending them for businesses. And as the Los Angeles Times explained, Romney's $1 trillion Rx could prove catastrophic:
Critics and independent analysts say the impact would probably leave a larger number of Americans without insurance...While offering consumers more choices, Romney's plan would give companies strong incentives to stop providing insurance to workers. It also would overhaul the 46-year-old Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.
On national defense, the two offer the same tough talk. Both Bush and Romney pledged to increase defense spending, while caustically criticizing the current Democratic occupant of the White House for leaving America unprepared and at risk. Despite the fact that the Pentagon's budget has doubled since 2001 and increased during each year of the Obama presidency, Romney warned (wrongly, it turns out):
"Our Navy is smaller than it's been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947. We are cutting our number of troops. We are not giving the veterans the care they deserve. We simply cannot continue to cut our Department of Defense budget if we are going to remain the hope of the Earth."
If that fear-mongering sounds familiar, it should. Then-candidate George W. Bush offered an even more dramatic, if similarly false, jeremiad at the 2000 Republican National Convention:
"We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence. Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.'"
When it comes to the aloofness that comes with great wealth, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are mirror images of each other. That is, while in 2000 the former alcoholic Bush was the man voters wanted to have a beer with, the teetotaler Romney is clearly the choice Americans don't want to not have a beer with. Nevertheless, in moments of levity—both intended and not—each man showed the yawning chasm separating himself from the concerns of the American people he would serve.
Texas Governor Bush joked about truth to power at the October 2000 Al Smith Dinner:
"This is an impressive crowd—the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base."
But Bush's shockingly cavalier comments while pitching his Social Security privatization plan during a February 2005 town hall were no laughing matter:
In Omaha on Friday, a divorced single mother named Mary Mornin tells the president, "I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters."
"Fantastic," the president exclaims, and he tells her she has "the hardest job in America, being a single mom."
Later, the 57-year old Mornin tells Bush that she works three jobs, which the president deems "uniquely American" and "fantastic."
Fast forward seven years and Ann Romney is channeling the man her husband would replace as the next Republican President of the United States:
"I love the fact that there are women out there who don't have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn't easy for any of us."
Not even for the Romneys.
Mitt Romney, who explained that over the last decade "my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past," joked with jobless voters that "I'm also unemployed." The $250 million man similarly declared himself "part of the 80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class, when just the "not very much" $374,000 he earned in speaking fees last year puts him in the top one percent of income earners. Whether or not he really enjoys firing people, Mitt Romney almost certainly never worried about "getting a pink slip" or pooped in a bucket during his time as a missionary at a toney Paris mansion. (Who else would lecture a child about his plans to divvy up his estate among his 16 grandchildren or endorse rooftop canine waterboarding?) And there's no doubt that the man who spent $12 million to buy his third home (none of which are located on "the real streets of America") didn't win any friends when he offered this prescription for the housing market crisis:
"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up."
Of course, he could have just been talking about the Bush recession and the policies that helped produce it. Mitt Romney may be much smarter and much more successful than Dubya. But the would-be Second MBA President is reading from the same script as the first. And Americans already know how that movie ends.
* NOTE: It is worth recalling that Bush ran on his business acumen in 2000. His followers touted him as the "First MBA President" and boasted "MBA President's Success Leaves Dems Out in Cold." They even produced books with titles like "The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush: 10 Commonsense Lessons from the Commander in Chief." But as these articles from US News and BusinessWeek show, President Bush did not receive high marks from his fellow business leaders. Now, Mitt Romney is touting his private sector business leadership and the claim that he knows "why jobs come and why jobs go." As leaders and managers, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush seem to have little in common. But in terms of public policy, they are eerily—and depressingly—similar.