Gregg Easterbrook

Romney touches third rail – and lives

Nov 9, 2011 21:37 UTC

Increasingly, Mitt Romney seems the Republican candidate who has given serious thought to governing – to what specific policy actions he would take if he became president. The other Republican candidates seem mainly concerned with self-promotion and applause lines, while Newt Gingrich’s “Day 1 Project” seems more like a dress rehearsal than a real concept for governing.

If Romney is the serious challenger to President Barack Obama, then his fiscal policy speech a few days ago bears inspection. It was notably better than most campaign speeches, and contained both gold and dross. Here are some highlights:

Gold: “We cannot with moral conscience borrow trillions of dollars that can only be repaid by our children.” Reckless borrowing, with the invoice passed to our children – nobody in power in Washington right now will be asked to repay the national debt – is not just numbers, it is a moral issue. Romney recognizes this.

Dross: Obama is to blame for “massive defense cuts.” Democrats always accuse Republicans of wanting to despoil the environment; Republicans always accuse Democrats of wanting a weak defense. Neither claim is true. Converted to today’s dollars, the 2000 defense budget was $390 billion. Check Table 32-1 for the key Pentagon numbers under Obama. The 2010 defense budget, the first Obama fully controlled, was $690 billion, and this year’s defense budget is $708 billion. “Massive defense cuts” is not true. Although the White House does project a decline in defense spending to $620 billion in 2013, almost all the projected reduction stems from the expected ends of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doesn’t everyone want those wars to end?

Gold: “I will make government simpler, smaller, and smarter.” In Romney’s case this is not just rhetoric, since he helped make Massachusetts government simpler, smaller and smarter. Compared to most other states, Massachusetts has a strong economy, good health care coverage for average people and a relatively small debt. If Romney could do for the nation what he did for Massachusetts, we’d all be happy.

The skinny on Social Security benefits

Oct 14, 2010 11:00 UTC

On Friday, the Social Security Administration is expected to announce that for the second consecutive year, there will be no Social Security cost-of-living increase. That makes perfect sense, since the cost of living is not rising. But this being an election year, there may be intense political demand for a special bonus to retirees, like the $250 bonus checks issued — regardless of need — to all senior citizens in 2009.

It is imperative that President Barack Obama, and Congress, resist demands for bonus payments to senior citizens. The federal budget — and long-term projections for Social Security — are in bad enough shape as is. If Washington can’t resist handing out bonuses, there is no hope the national red ink ever can be stopped.

There’s no “right” to higher Social Security benefits.
In 1972, Congress created a COLA system to increase Social Security benefits (and the threshold level of Social Security taxation) in sync with the rising cost of living. Each year from 1972 to 2009, Social Security benefits rose, owing to inflation. Seniors became accustomed to the first check in January of any year containing a boost. Some surely believe that law requires their benefits to rise annually.