Mitt Romney breathed new life into his presidential campaign Wednesday night, using the first presidential debate of 2012 to go head-to-head with Barack Obama over jobs, healthcare, and their competing visions of the role of the federal government.
The Republican nominee — who many have accused of lacking policy substance — was well-prepared, even-keeled, and competent, deflecting accusations that he was being evasive by offering Obama a handful of specific policy ideas.
But while these proposals may sound new, the ideas have actually been in Romney’s campaign platform for more than a year, as part of the candidate’s 59-point economic plan.
That plan, released during the fall Republican primary season, has been on the candidate’s back burner for months, replaced by a shorter, five-point plan Romney now pushes with voters.
Still, even this full plan is still woefully lacking in specifics. But in the absence of something more, it gives us at least a little bit more insight into what Romney would do as president. Here’s, point by point, Mitt Romney’s initial 59 point plan.
According to the plan, Romney wants 'a fundamental redesign of our tax system,'
This starts with permanently extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts, which Romney says 'should be regarded as a directional marker on the road to more reform.'
'As with the marginal income tax rates,' the plan says, 'Mitt Romney will seek to make permanent the lower tax rates for investment income put into place by President Bush.'
This would mean that the tax rates for capital gains would remain fixed at their current rate. In 2003, Bush signed a law making the Capital Gains tax 15% for most income brackets, with 5% for the lowest two income brackets.
Obama signed a continuation of the law in 2010, but after this year, the law will revert to this:
- After 2012, dividends will be taxed at the taxpayer's ordinary income tax rate, regardless of his or her tax bracket.
- After 2012, the long-term capital gains tax rate will be 20% (10% for taxpayers in the 15% tax bracket).
- After 2012, the qualified five-year 18% capital gains rate (8% for taxpayers in the 15% tax bracket) will be reinstated.
3. Eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for taxpayers with adjusted gross income below $200,000.
Under a Romney administration, anyone making less than $200,000 wouldn't have to pay any taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest.
Romney says the policy will 'encourage more Americans to save and to invest for the long term.'
Romney, like many Republicans, wants to end to the Estate Tax, more popularly known among conservatives as the 'Death tax.'
At the moment, the Estate Tax stands at a top rate of 35% and is set to rise to 55% in 2013. Arguing that government should not be allowed to tax the same income twice, and that the tax creates incentives to use tax-avoidance schemes, Romney says he 'will work to eliminate the tax permanently.'
5. Pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system over the long term that includes lower, flatter rates on a broader taxpayer base
Romney's long-term tax plan is to 'pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system that includes lower and flatter tax rates on a broader tax base.'
First let's cut through the jargon: 'Lower' refers to a 20 per cent cut in personal income taxes across the board; 'flatter' means fewer tax brackets, and a 'broader' base means tax increases for some people who are currently exempt from paying income taxes.
According to Romney's plan, the goal is to end 'tax gamesmanship' and simplify the tax code -- although, as many have pointed out, achieving this without raising taxes on the middle class would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Romney hasn't offered any specifics on how this part of his plan would work, and the 59-point document doesn't hold any clues.
Romney says he will push for a reduction of the corporate tax rate, currently 35 per cent, to 25 per cent.
'Our high corporate tax rate handicaps the overall U.S. Economy in our competition with the rest of the world,' Romney's plan states. 'It leaves individual American businesses with a smaller portion of their profits to reinvest.'
The American corporate tax system is 'worldwide, which means that regardless of where a U.S. company makes its profits, its corporate income gets taxed when the money comes back into the country.
According to Romney, when those companies are also required to pay taxes overseas, this amounts to double taxation -- a policy Romney believes puts U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Romney's plan states that his administration would push the U.S. to transition to a territorial system, in which income is only taxed in the country where it was earned. But it provides few details about how that transition would occur, or how the federal government would make up for the lost revenue.
On 'Day One' of his presidency, Romney says he would issue an executive order directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services 'to return the maximum possible authority to the states to innovate and design health care solutions that work best for them.'
According to his economic plan, the goal of the order would be to 'dismantle Obamacare even without the Congressional majorities required to strike it formally from the books.' Eventually, he says, he would work with Congress to fully repeal the healthcare law.
According to the plan, Romney would repeal the entirety of the Dodd-Frank Act, a behemoth law aimed at regulating the financial services industry, 'and replace it with a streamlined regulatory framework.'
But Romney's new law would reinstate some of the provisions currently in Dodd-Frank, including 'greater transparency for inter-bank relationships, enhanced capital requirements, and provisions to address new forms of complex financial transactions are all necessary elements of effective financial reform.'
Romney also plans to modify the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 in the wake of a series of high-profile corporate accounting scandals.
Romney's issue with Sarbanes-Oxley is that it was designed for large companies and imposes 'onerous burdens when applied to mid-size firms.' According to the Republican candidate's economic team, this amounts to a penalty for small firms seeking expansion.
One core part of the Romney plan is a mitigation of Obama energy policies, including dismantling his administration's regulatory apparatus.
To do that, Romney says he would start to account for the costs incurred by the government and private companies through the implementation of environmental regulations. For example, according to the plan, 'Romney will seek to amend the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to ensure that cost is taken properly into account at every stage in the regulatory process.'
Another aspect of Romney's planned revamp of the environmental regulatory apparatus is to install amendments to bills that would allow for multi-year lead times between the date when an environmental law is passed and the date it must be implemented.
According to Romney's plan, in addition to giving companies additional time to address environmental violations, these amendments would also provide a wider window to invest in the installation of new technology.
Another one of Romney's Day One executive orders, the candidate calls this proposal'An Order to Cut Red Tape.'
According to the plan, President Romney would direct 'all agencies to immediately initiate the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy or job creation, and then caps annual increases in regulatory costs to zero dollars.'
He does not specify what regulations he already plans on targeting, however, and gives no hint as to how his administration would go about identifying which regulations are undue burdens on economic growth.
The second part of Romney's 'Order To Cut Red Tap' would force federal agencies to account for the costs of their regulatory burden -- which Romney estimates comes out to a combined $1.75 trillion burden -- and cap spending increases on these regulations at zero.
'If an agency wishes or is required by law to issue a new regulation, it must go through a budget-like process and identify offsetting cost reductions from the existing regulatory burden,' Romney's plan states. 'While not a panacea for the problem of over-regulation, implementation of this conservative principle would go some distance toward halting the relentless growth of the regulatory state. '
Romney supports the implementation of a law similar to the REINS Act that is currently before congress.
Essentially, all 'major' rules -- those with an economic impact greater than $100 million -- would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Needless to say, this would make enacting new regulations extremely difficult for most federal agencies.
In short, Tort Reform.
As president, Romney would pursue a series of legal reforms that change the way liability and damages are interpreted, including:
'Preventing excessive damage awards, limiting class action lawsuits to those situations where they are actually warranted, and empowering judges to sanction more effectively trial lawyers and parties who bring frivolous claims are all steps that could protect litigants with legitimate grievances while preventing spurious litigation from inhibiting investment and job creation.'
Romney's plan, written in the fall of 2011, says that as president, he would immediately ratify pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea after they passed through Congress.
Since the plan was written, all three agreements have passed Congress, and the agreements with Colombia and South Korea have gone into effect. The deal with Panama has been delayed, but is expected to go into effect soon, according to statements made last week by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
The Trade Promotion Authority, known as the Fast Track, allowed the President to negotiate a trade agreement and submit it to Congress for a single up-down vote without the possibility for amendment or filibuster.
Typically, this prevents significant congressional involvement on the agreement, which makes it somewhat controversial. The TPA must be re-approved by Congress this year.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would open access to the Malaysian and Vietnamese markets for the United States, but its passage is contingent upon the reinstatement of the Fast Track authority.
If Obama loses the election, and passage of the TPP is delayed until after he leaves office, Romney claims he is committed to completing negotiations as quickly as possible.
One ambitious proposal in Romney's plan calls for the implementation of a union of 'open-market nations' that would be able to codify international trade rules amongst the group. According to Romney's plan, the trade union would be mutually beneficial to nations that agree to 'play by the rules.'
This would be, in the words of the plan, 'a game-changing multilateral agreement among like-minded nations genuinely committed to the principles of open markets.'
The goal of the 'REZ' would be to bolster nations that participate and abide by the United States' trade rules, while excluding nations that don't comply.
While a bit ambitious, the plan appears to be popular among Romney's economic team, and the candidate repeats it often on the stump.
As part of Romney's aggressive stance toward China, Romney claims that his administration would give more money to border enforcement to investigate the point of origin for counterfeit Chinese products exported through third-party nations in order to obscure their origin and circumvent U.S. customs law.
In another hardline proposal aimed at China, Romney states that his administration would consider unilateral or multilateral sanctions against China.
Here's the brief section on it:
'If the United States identifies a Chinese firm or industry that is relying on unfair practices or misappropriated American technology for its competitive advantage, we should be in a position to impose punitive measures in response. If China makes it a priority to strong-arm Western corporations in industries with particularly valuable technologies, we should join with our allies to ensure that it does not obtain the technology transfers it seeks.'
The most aggressive proposal to stop China's 'cheating,' Romney says that, if elected, he would direct his Treasury Secretary to designate China a currency manipulator, and authorise the Department of Commerce to impose countervailing duties -- essentially, taxes on imports -- on Chinese goods.
The World Trade organisation's Government Procurement Agreement forbids member nations from discriminating against another member's products in the course of government procurement.
China is not a signatory, Romney's plan notes, adding that the Chinese government 'by itself one of the world's largest consumers, has failed to make good on its commitment to accede to the GPA, and continues to strongly favour domestic Chinese providers.'
According to the plan, Romney would end U.S. government procurement of Chinese goods and services 'until China joins and abide by the GPA'
The first proposal in the Energy section of Romney's plan proposes fixing the amount of time between an application for a oil exploration/development permit and the approval or denial of that permit application.
Essentially, this would make it impossible for the executive branch to indefinitely refrain from making a decision on awarding permits for oil and gas exploration.
In the next energy proposal, Romney claims he wants to consolidate 'procedures for issuing permits' to give companies 'a one-stop shop' for their permitting needs.
Romney does not elaborate further, though, so it's not particularly clear how this point will be implemented.
Romney's plan proposes that 'once a particular drilling technique has been approved in a particular area, any company with an established safety record should be able to quickly receive a comparable permit,'
According to Romney, this would 'lift the cloud of uncertainty in which the regulatory process now enshrouds energy enterprises.'
In a section titled 'Overhaul Outdated Legislation,' Romney's economic plan describes a proposal to overhaul the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Specifically, Romney wants to remove carbon dioxide emissions from the purview of the Clean Air Act, which was not, he argues, 'intended to control carbon dioxide emissions.'
Obama, he argues, has tried to achieve 'the effects of cap-and-trade without congressional approval' and threatens 'enormous economic disruption.'
'Laws that require every significant scientific innovation or technological breakthrough to trigger prolonged regulatory scrutiny and years of spurious litigation are an excellent means of imposing self-inflicted wounds on our economy,' his plan states.
According to the plan, the NRC 'is equipped to review only one kind of reactor design, a limitation that dampens competition, stifles innovation, and drives up prices.'
A new nuclear reactor has not been approved in the U.S in three decades. Romney contrasts that with France and China, where 15 and 10 plants have respectively gone up in the same amount of time.
Romney wants to streamline the NRC procedures to allow any reactor built with an approved design on an approved site would be completed within two years.
The Romney plan is huge on domestic carbon-based energy.
In Romney's view, one issue with developing these resources is the government's inability to accurately quantify how much of that energy exists domestically.
'Surveys and inventories of resource deposits are decades out of date -- when they have even been done at all,' his plan states. A Romney administration would 'conduct a comprehensive survey of our untapped resources so that policymakers and developers have a full picture from which to work.'
Once they find out where it is, 'a Romney administration will permit drilling wherever it can be done safely. taking into account local concerns. This includes the Gulf of Mexico, both the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves, Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and off the Alaska coast. And it includes not only conventional reserves, but more recently developed shale oil deposits as well.'
With regards to shale oil deposits -- which are typically accessed through hydraulic fracturing -- Romney specifically mentions New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia as potential targets.
Romney would like to see the United States partner with Mexico and Canada with extracting those countries' oil reserves as well.
And Romney would do much more than merely authorise the Keystone Pipeline.
From the plan:
'In addition to ensuring rapid progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a Romney administration will pave the way for the construction of additional pipelines that can accommodate the expected growth in Canadian supply of oil and natural gas in the coming years.'
Under a Romney administration, the EPA would not pursue 'overly aggressive interventions designed to discourage fracking altogether,' and regulation would largely be left to the states.
'Of critical importance: the environmental impact of fracking should not be considered in the abstract, but rather evaluated in comparison to the impact of utilising the fuels that natural gas displaces, including coal.'
This is interesting for a number of reasons, but especially for the perceived slight at the coal business.
According to the plan, Romney wants to devote government energy investment to basic research, rather than ambitious, long-term investments, which have struggled -- and become thorny political issues -- under the Obama administration.
From Romney's plan:
'As president, Mitt Romney will direct clean energy spending towards basic research. Government funding should be focused on research and development of new energy technologies that establish the feasibility of discoveries.'
According to Romney's plan, his administration would increase investment in defence Advanced Research Projects Administration and the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects bureau, two Advance Research & Development bureaus that are relatively apolitical.
The Romney camp isn't such a big fan of unions, and has set a target on the NLRB, a presidentially-appointed board that mediates disputes between management and labour unions.
According to the plan, President Romney would stock this board with 'experienced individuals with a respect for the law and an evenhanded approach to labour relations.' These people, Romney says, would be 'unlike President Obama's appointees,' who his plan describes as 'former union officials with personal interests in promoting the agenda of their former employers.'
To further render the NLRB toothless, a Romney administration would 'ensure that unaccountable government bureaucrats do not interfere in the job-creating investment decisions of the private sector -- by making responsible appointments in the first place, and by supporting legislation to prevent any improper decisions an unaccountable agency might issue.'
As President, Romney would continue the fight against Big labour by pushing a Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would 'require the use of the secret ballot in all union elections regardless of the preference of the union, employees, or employer.'
The proposal is a backlash to 'card check' legislation that labour unions have introduced at the state level, which would force workers to publicly declare their commitment to join a union.
Romney would also push further anti-union legislation 'mandating that all pre-election campaigns last at least one month,' which would presumably give management more time to lobby employees to vote against forming a union.
According to the plan, 'Romney believes that Right-to-Work legislation is the appropriate course for states, and he will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage more states to move in that direction.'
At the moment, 27 states -- plus D.C. -- have right-to-work laws.
Typically, some portion of union dues are rolled into voter education funds designed to defend the union's political interests.
Romney opposes this, and it's easy to understand why -- most union money supports Democrats.
Still, it's interesting that Romney doesn't want the same protections for different groups of people, like corporations or religious groups, both of which engage in identical practices.
According to his plan, President Romney would reverse any executive orders signed by Obama with the aim of protecting unions.
The only order mentioned specifically, though, is an 'order strongly encouraging the use of union labour on government projects.'
The federal government has set up a number of retraining programs to help workers displaced by trade agreements and outsourcing. According to his plan, Romney wants to consolidate these programs -- 47 different programs under 9 different agencies -- into a consolidated, streamlined process, removing redundancies and concentrating retraining efforts on specific skills.
Romney proposes shifting the power and responsibility to retrain unemployed workers from the federal government to the states through block grants that would let states experiment with different, regionalized retraining programs.
Under this plan, the plan says 'states could have far more room to experiment if resources were not tied up in rigid federal programs.'
Under Romney's Personal Reemployment Account plan, the government would backs out of the business of retraining workers by simply giving the unemployed worker money to pay for their own retraining.
Individuals would use this retraining fund however they saw fit, and could also use it to pay for a community college course or vocational training.
Romney would also like to see the private sector commit to retraining employees rather than the government doing it.
From the plan:
In such programs, retraining funds would then be given to the private companies as incentives to hire and train new workers, instead of being spent to pay the salaries of federal bureaucrats. To ensure a mutually beneficial partnership, companies would earn the funds only upon retraining and retaining an individual for a specific period of time.'
Observing that 16 per cent of CEOs and lead engineers at high-tech companies are immigrants, Romney proposes raising the maximum number of visas issued to people who hold degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Ideally, result in 'more start-ups, more innovation, and more jobs'
According to the plan, 'Romney will also work to establish a policy that staples a green card to the diploma of every eligible student visa holder who graduates from one of our universities with an advanced degree in maths, science, or engineering.'
The idea here is that 'highly skilled, motivated, English-speaking' graduates would 'generate economic ripples that redounded to the benefit of all.'
Romney proposes restructuring Medicaid into a block grant program, in which the federal government gives states money for the program and the states determine individually decide how to administer it.
In one sentence of his plan, Romney says he wants to 'align the wages and benefits of federal employees' to workers in the private sector. But he does not elaborate, so its unclear what he even means.
Romney's plan proposes cutting the federal workforce by 10 per cent through attrition -- essentially, replacing two employees who leave federal service with one new employee, thereby reducing the workforce without having to fire people.
Still, playing the waiting game does take some time, so it's not clear how long it would take to achieve the cut.
The plan states that 'one of Mitt Romney's most important goals is peeling away the duplicative and dysfunctional layers of bureaucracy that prevent government from serving the people.'
Interestingly, Romney takes particular aim at Amtrak here:
'There are many functions and services that the private sector can perform better than the public sector. For instance, the government-run railroad, Amtrak, lost money on 41 of its 44 routes in 2008. Losses per passenger ranged from $5 to $462. That's no way to run a railroad. If given a shot, the private sector will certainly do a better job.'
Romney proposes enacting the Republicans' 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' plan, which would cut non-defence discretionary spending by 5 per cent, although, significantly, Romney does not name what specifically he would cut.
This is the Cap part of Cut, Cap and Balance.
But according to Romney's plan, capping the federal budget at 20 per cent of GDP is just the start.
'As spending comes under control,' the plan says, 'he will pursue further cuts that will allow caps to be set even lower so as to guarantee future fiscal stability.'
Finally, Balance. Mitt Romney wants a constitutional amendment to mandate balanced budgets, which would make it nearly impossible to increase taxes for any reason besides a war.
Via the plan:
'A Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution is necessary to ensure that our nation embarks on a path of long-term fiscal discipline, and as president, Mitt Romney will introduce one in Congress and fight for its passage...
'A properly constructed amendment would guard against the use of net revenue increases to achieve balance by requiring a super-majority for the passage of any tax hike. And it would include only very limited exceptions, such as for war or national security emergencies.'
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