When it comes to fiscal issues, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want voters to know they’re collectively disgusted by what they see as a reckless government spending spree under President Obama the past three years.
But in a twist, they’re also contending that Obama’s government hasn’t stepped in enough to help Americans. It’s the political equivalent of “This food is terrible — and such small portions!”
The most notable example is entitlements, where in a surprise move Romney recently pledged to reverse $716 billion in Medicare savings enacted under the Affordable Care Act, despite his own running mate’s past endorsement of the cuts. Given that the choice of Ryan was billed by the campaign as a signal that they were serious about cracking down on entitlements, it’s puzzling that the only changes Romney has decisively committed himself to so far involve upping federal spending even more.
But it’s not the only case in which the Romney-Ryan ticket has suggested more government is better. In another break with a position once supported by House Republicans, the campaign is demanding that Congress reverse defense cuts that were included in last year’s debt-ceiling package. Romney’s making the case on explicitly Keynesian grounds, warning that by lowering military spending, the federal government won’t spend enough money on jobs.
It’s a far cry from his usual attacks on Obama’s stimulus and health care spending, which Romney and Ryan routinely describe as threats to the very future of American capitalism.
“One must ask whether we will still be a free-enterprise nation and whether we will still have economic freedom,” Romney said in a June speech in Missouri. “America is on the cusp of having a government-run economy.”
A similar theme can be seen in criticisms from both Ryan and Romney of the auto bailout. The two held different positions on the initial 2008 decision by Congress to offer emergency loans to the industry. But both have issued the same complaint — why didn’t it go even further?
Ryan, who voted for the auto rescue, repeatedly criticized the administration on Thursday for failing to prevent auto factory closings in his Wisconsin district. Ryan departed from free market purism not only in his bailout vote, but when he urged the administration to use a $25 billion government program to keep his district’s plants open.
Romney too has implied that the auto rescue didn’t go far enough, despite slamming the initial loans Ryan voted for in a 2008 op-ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” In recent months he’s not only suggested that he would have saved the industry (he claims he could have done it with less money, but hasn’t specified how), he’s attacked the Obama administration for not doing more to prop up car dealerships that were closed as part of the restructuring process.
Meanwhile, though both candidates have pledged to massively reduce spending quickly — Romney has actually promised to move even faster to cut the defiicit than Ryan’s House budget, but has offered scant details on where he would actually make any cuts.Obama is thus stuck rebutting claims that big-government liberals are taking over health care while defending himself from charges that he’s a heartless miser out to slash your Medicare benefits.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.