Romney’s economic plan: Bad math, bad policy for Maine

Put aside the rhetoric of the presidential race, and listen to what is still, after years of campaigning, being left out. How would Republican Mitt Romney improve the economy and cut the deficit? What he’s said: He will balance the budget in eight to 10 years. At the same time, he will increase defense spending by $2 trillion over 10 years. He will repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What isn’t being said: How the plan is possible without raising taxes or creating another economic slump. If Romney caps federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, as he has proposed, and increases defense spending, large cuts to other programs would send Mainers into poverty.

If Romney remained true to his word and abolished the Affordable Care Act, while holding steady Social Security, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates non-defense programs would have to be cut 22 percent in 2016 and 34 percent in 2022 to reach his targets. That’s if Medicare, Medicaid and all other entitlement and discretionary programs were cut by the same percentage. If Romney didn’t touch Medicare, the cuts in other programs would amount to 32 percent in 2016 and an incredible 53 percent in 2022.

If these cuts actually happened, and they were applied proportionately, they would cause many families to drop below the poverty line and would cause those who are already poor to become poorer. The cuts would affect veterans’ disability compensation, Supplemental Security Income for poor elderly and the disabled, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), child nutrition programs and unemployment compensation, according to the CBPP.

With Maine’s high percentage of seniors and veterans, it’s obvious that the cuts would have an impact. It’s clear that the areas of Maine already facing high rates of unemployment and slow economic growth would be hurt the most. Medicaid cuts would harm families with autistic children. Health care clinics that rely on federal funding and Head Start would be threatened.

All this would happen at the same time that defense spending would unnecessarily increase. In the final presidential debate, President Barack Obama said Romney wants to spend money that the military isn’t asking for. PolitiFact rated the statement true. Heads of the military have testified in favor of Obama’s spending plan, and PolitiFact found no evidence of behind-the-scenes disagreement.

Romney has proposed a variety of tax cuts — to permanently extend the 2001-03 tax cuts, cut individual income tax rates, reduce the corporate income tax, eliminate the estate tax, and others — which the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says would reduce tax revenue by nearly $5 trillion over 10 years. Romney says he will offset lost revenues by reducing tax deductions and eliminating loopholes, but the policy center has so far concluded that the numbers simply aren’t there to make the plan revenue neutral.

Based on what Romney has proposed so far, he cannot mathematically lower taxes for the wealthy, prevent the tax rates of the middle class from rising and prevent an increase in the deficit.

Romney appears to be counting on Mainers to develop amnesia. When George W. Bush was elected president, the country had a budget surplus. So Bush argued the government was collecting too much in taxes, and the Republican-led Congress cut them and, at the same time, increased spending and entered two wars. There were problems before Bush, but his approach didn’t work. The country is still trying to recover.

“Polls show that a large majority of Americans blame wasteful or unnecessary federal programs for the nation’s budget problems. But routine increases in defense and domestic spending account for only about 15 percent of the financial deterioration,” The Washington Post wrote in April 2011 after analyzing Congressional Budget Office data. “The biggest culprit, by far, has been an erosion of tax revenue triggered largely by two recessions and multiple rounds of tax cuts. Together, the economy and the tax bills enacted under former president George W. Bush, and to a lesser extent by President Obama, wiped out $6.3 trillion in anticipated revenue.”

If Romney really believes that further tax cuts will benefit the country at a time when it is starting to recover, he should, at the very least, explain how it is possible. And if the matter most concerning to Mainers is the economy, as they state in polls, then they should look closely at what Romney is proposing to improve it. For the love of Maine, put aside ideology and party, and look at the data. Anyone can see the numbers don’t even add up, let alone help the state or country.

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.