Even the most ardent supporter of President Obama must admit that Mitt Romney has built on his strong performance in the presidential debate last week. A more relaxed, engaging and formidable Romney visited Cuyahoga Falls on Tuesday, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of 11,000 or more people gathered at the Natatorium. Still, what caught our attention was a familiar riff from the candidate, relayed in the reporting of Rick Armon, a Beacon Journal staff writer. It pointed to a persistent murkiness in his campaign.
Romney highlighted that the country faces “some major challenges.” He stated: “This debt is a threat to us. It’s got to end.” How would the candidate deal with the debt?
During the debate, Romney insisted he doesn’t have a plan to reduce taxes by $5 trillion during the next decade. What he does have is a proposal to lower income tax rates by 20 percent across the board, accompanied by the closing of deductions, exclusions, credits and other tax breaks to achieve a “revenue neutral” outcome. Which tax breaks would he erase? He has been coy and elusive in his answer, though he did offer on Tuesday that he would protect deductions on mortgage interest and charitable donations for the middle class.
What all of this suggests is that Romney, for all his jabbing of the president for failing to back the Simpson-Bowles plan for deficit-reduction, would not take a balanced approach. He would have to cut deeply into domestic spending, involving a wide range of programs and departments. Remember, too, Romney wants to increase defense spending. Simpson-Bowles calls for both reduced defense spending and increased tax revenues.
Then, Romney said: “This economy is not creating the jobs it should. We gotta fix it.” He’s right. The trouble is, he hasn’t taken time to say how he would do it, alluding most often to the promise of tax reform he has yet to define with any precision.
Next, Romney argued: “Our schools aren’t preparing our kids for the jobs of tomorrow. We’ve got to fix them so we give our kids the right prospects they deserve.” Again, the campaign has given the how short shrift, preferring allusions to choice and knocks to teachers unions. In contrast, the president actually has delivered in the concrete, through, among other things, the bipartisan Race to the Top initiative and making student loans more accessible.
To be sure, the president ducks and dodges on the campaign trail. Yet he also has a record, in many ways advancing the country on these fronts. A challenger invariably argues the country can do better. What Mitt Romney still hasn’t done is clarify what he would do among his many positions.