It’s The Politics, Stupid

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney doesn’t want to give details on his budget plan in terms of what he will cut because it wouldn’t be politically expedient… OK!

TPM2012

Romney won’t get specific for fear of criticism

Mitt Romney has made big promises to reform Washington, but his proposals have mostly lacked specifics. In a recently published interview with the conservative Weekly Standard, Romney explained why his promises to cut federal spending by slashing government programs and even whole agencies lack detail: it’s too politically risky.

“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 magazine, recalling his 1994 run for Kennedy’s Senate seat.

It appears Romney doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

“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.”

As the Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes points out in his piece, this isn’t what conservatives are looking for in a candidate. “Romney’s answer goes a long way to explain why some conservatives have been reluctant to embrace his candidacy,” writes Hayes. “They want a list. They want it to be long, they want it to be detailed, and they want a candidate who is not only willing to provide one but eager to campaign on it.”

As Romney’s answer does make clear, though, he will look for ways to turn government-run programs — like Medicaid — into block-grants for states so that they can run the programs themselves. His Medicaid plan, which he has repeated on the trail for months, is a good example of one detail he does divulge. And if Romney is looking to appeal to both conservatives and independents, block-granting programs is a good way to appeal to conservatives by taking them out of federal hands. In this case, it’ll shrink and transform Medicaid without offering Democrats the political shock-value of eliminating the program outright.

Romney’s hesitance to get specific isn’t uncharacteristic. The former Massachusetts governor has a tax plan that, in his own words, “can’t be scored” because it lacks the details that would allow the plan to be critically evaluated. He was happy to divulge that he would lower taxes for most Americans, but opted not to explain how he would make up for the lost revenue. Those details, he said earlier this month, should be worked out with Congress.

On the foreign policy front, Romney has criticized President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy but said he won’t put forward a plan until he hears from generals on the ground. As he said last week, “before I take a stand at a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there.”

For conservative voters wary of nominating an Etch-A-Sketch candidate, the GOP frontrunner has broadly wedded himself to the Republican agenda of gutting federal spending on domestic programs, telling Hayes, “Actually eliminating programs is the most important way to keep Congress from stuffing the money back into them.” But, as with his other big plans, voters may have to wait until he gets into office to find out which ones. The difference is that this time, Romney has openly chalked up the lack of details to political considerations.