Mitt Romney has made it very clear he wants to keep it vague on the campaign trail when it comes to the way he’ll change how the American government looks. The politics of actually saying what he plans to do are just to dangerous for him to speak in anything else but gauzy language, he’s said.
That’s the standard for the general electorate, anyway. Romney’s big-time donors, however, are another story. Two reporters on the trail with Romney over the weekend overheard Romney detailing his vision for eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and dramatically trimming the Department of Education — specific proposals he’s yet to unveil on the trail.
His campaign predictably tried to put the genie back in the bottle.
Here’s Romney talking specific government cuts at a Sunday evening high-dollar fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla., via NBC News:
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Eliminating HUD appeals to the conservative base Romney’s trying to consolidate after all-but-sewing up the nomination last week. But when it comes to the Department of Education — a favorite target of the right, who want it gone — Romney said he’s not prepared to go all the way:
The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions.
As Romney noted, according to NBC, calling for an end to the Education Department is “politically volatile.” Romney tried it back during his 1994 Senate run against the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and it didn’t go over well with the blue state electorate. Just a couple weeks ago Romney used this exact same anecdote to explain why he was avoiding the kind of specificity he outlined to the wealthy audience in Florida.
“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 told the Weekly Standard in March.
“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.” Romney singled out housing vouchers as one place where he would make significant changes, but kept it purposely vague when it came to how he plans to chop the Cabinet. “Will there be some that get eliminated or combined?” he said. “The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”
Romney also named names on changes to the tax code he’d propose. A Wall Street Journal reporter outside the Palm Beach fundraiser overheard him proposing the elimination of mortgage deductions for second homes, as well as other changes aimed primarily at the wealthy. That new money would be used to pay for Romney’s tax-cut plan.
Both the proposals themselves — and the fact that he revealed them to wealthy donors after keeping the public in the dark — will provide fodder for Democrats. It was little surprise, then, that Romney’s campaign quickly dismissed reports from the fundraiser.
“He was tossing ideas out, not unveiling policy,” a Romney spokesperson told CNN.