TAMPA, FLA.: Republicans wrapped up their “trust me” convention Thursday, sending presidential nominee Mitt Romney into the final weeks of a campaign that is long on promises and strikingly short on details.
When his wife, Ann, kicked things off by declaring, “You can trust Mitt,” she summed up the three-day theme, intentionally or not.
Take it on faith, the message was. Because Romney is not spelling out how he intends to restore fiscal responsibility while cutting taxes, expanding the military and standing by — for now, at least — as lawmakers from both parties jealously protect countless government programs.
Allies promised Romney will tell “hard truths” and not duck tough issues. But so far he has specified little about the pain Americans would have to accept to tame deficit spending and cure other ills he blames on President Barack Obama.
Republicans are quick to note that Obama, too, pushes ideas that fall well short of putting the government back on a track to balanced budgets in the foreseeable future, and he has not offered a plan to put entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security on a sustainable long-term path.
But Obama has gone further than Romney, if for no other reason than presidents submit proposed budgets to Congress. Obama has proposed raising taxes — mostly on wealthier Americans — and targeted spending cuts, including a bid to trim Medicare spending by $716 billion over 10 years, in part to finance his health-care law.
If Obama glosses over important details at the Democrats’ convention next week, he’ll open himself to the same tough scrutiny that Romney invited in Tampa.
Curiously, Republican convention speakers cast an even sharper light on Romney’s stinginess with eat-your-broccoli details, by painting him as a gutsy politician unafraid to anger voters.
“Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt that is compromising our future and burying our economy,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in the keynote address. “Our problems are big, and the solutions will not be painless.”
But who, specifically, will suffer pain, and what kind of pain? Romney has not said.
On Medicare, for instance, he calls for eventually shifting the popular-but-costly program to a state-run voucher program, which almost certainly would reduce costs and benefits. But the change wouldn’t start for 10 years, and by then Romney would be an ex-president, even if he wins two terms. Meanwhile, details of the benefit changes are impossible to know.
On the spending side, Romney would restore the 10-year, $716 billion in Medicare cuts, or savings, that Obama wants.
A casual TV viewer of the GOP convention might wonder why the party that calls for less government has nominated someone who wants to restore billions of dollars in spending cuts pushed by a Democratic president.
Romney is no more specific about which tax breaks, or “loopholes,” he would eliminate so he can reduce tax rates without big drops in revenue. Perhaps the mortgage interest deduction? The charitable gifts deduction? The tax break for employer-provided health insurance?
“I know our Democrat friends would love to have me specify one or two so they could amass the special interests to fight that effort,” Romney told Time magazine.
On the spending side, Romney promises to cut $500 billion a year by 2016 to bring spending below 20 percent of the U.S. economy. He says he will balance the budget by 2020.
Not only does he provide few specific targets for spending cuts, but he also calls for big increases in military spending, along with the restored Medicare money, plus lower income tax rates.
The few specifics Romney offers include repealing Obama’s health-care law, cutting federal payrolls, weaning Amtrak from subsidies, trimming foreign aid and curbing the Medicaid medical program for the poor and disabled. Those steps would not get him close to his overall goals, but he’s offering few other details.