I’ve long joked, openly, that being a political theorist at a policy school is a little like holding a chair in astrology in an astronomy department. I violate all the assumptions about how policy analysts are supposed to think. I care deeply about rhetoric (and words generally), political cuts and thrusts, ideology, moral argument, and the kinds of values that can’t easily be traded off or costed out. Contrariwise, while I believe in the value of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, gathering good data and analyzing them scrupulously, paying attention to opportunity costs and tradeoffs at the margin, and what I’ve come to call the Prime Directive of Policy Analysis—“Skip the speech; read the budget”—I don’t do any of those valuable things myself.
That’s why it’s nice when Ezra Klein does them for me (and, I guess, nice that I care enough to skim his blog, and over time to learn some of the small number of things about policy that can’t be learnt directly from Mark). While all the reporters as well as we blogger-pundits were, understandably, chortling at the sight of a man who can’t lure more than 1,200 supporters to an empty football stadium, Ezra looked at the substance of what Mitt Romney said and found out how he proposes to pay for his tax cuts and hikes in defense spending:
… He’ll “send Medicaid back to the states and cap that program’s rate of growth,” and then “do the same for other programs, like food stamps, housing subsidies and job training.”
Sending the programs back to the states is a red herring. The key bit for deficit reduction is capping their rates of growth. Which is to say, cutting their rates of growth. Which is to say, cutting them.
What Romney is essentially proposing to do is finance a massive tax cut by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training. In other words, the neediest Americans — and, to a lesser degree, federal workers — will be financing a massive tax cut.
I don’t know whether independent analysts will say the numbers add up to make the rest of Romney’s plan deficit neutral. My guess is they won’t. But even if they did, Romney’s priorities are clear: In order to cut taxes and raise defense spending, he’ll cut the programs that support the poorest Americans.
In 2000, George W. Bush ran for president saying “I don’t think they ought to be balancing their budget on the backs of the poor.” In 2012, amidst a much worse economy, Romney is running for president saying exactly the opposite.
Perhaps that’s why the stadium is empty.