Romney, Ryan, and the Conservatives Who Don’t Love Them
Yesterday’s New York Times ran not one, but two opinion pieces by prominent conservatives criticizing – no, completely trashing – the Republican economic orthodoxy embodied by the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign.
Bruce Bartlett, an economic adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, wrote a post for the Economix blog. An inveterate supply-sider in the 1980s, Bartlett says that present times call not for supply-side solutions, but good old Keynesian economics.
His post was headlined “Blaming Obama for George W. Bush’s Policies,” which is a pretty good summary of what followed: Bartlett’s discussion of a paper released last week by Mitt Romney. The paper was authored by four of Romney’s economic advisers: Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University, N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University, John B. Taylor of Stanford University, and Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute.
According to Bartlett, the paper gives “the impression that the recession occurred on President Obama’s watch because of policies he is responsible for.” Bartlett objects that the recession began on President Bush’s watch, ended just five months into President Obama’s watch, and had nothing at all to do with President Obama’s policies.
Bartlett points out that George Bush inherited a $236 billion budget surplus in 2000 and bequeathed a $459 billion deficit in 2008 and a projected 2009 deficit of $1.3 trillion. He notes the obvious, that this unfortunate turn of events owes largely to tax cuts and a couple of wars. Tax cuts are unwise, he says, when the economy is turning up – as it was when the Bush tax cuts were enacted. By turning surpluses to deficits, Bush disarmed our defense against the recession that Bush himself at least arguably caused.
Bartlett agrees with Republicans who say that Obama’s response to the recession was inadequate, but he blames the Republicans themselves for the inadequacy. A full dose of Keynesian stimulus was what the economy needed in 2009, but the patient got only a half-dose because of “the opposition of every Republican” in Congress.
Having arguably caused the longest and deepest recession since World War II, and having squandered the substantial Bill Clinton surpluses – then having fought to limit Obama’s stimulus to a half-dose of Keynesian medicine, Republicans now have what Bartlett characterizes as the “chutzpah” to blame the medicine for the slow recovery.
The other conservative trashing Republican budgetary policies in yesterday’s Times was David Stockman, President Reagan’s first budget director. In “Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan,” Stockman waxed even angrier than Bartlett that “this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon.” Stockman blamed “thirty years of Republican apostasy” for burying the country in debt. “Shrinking Big Government,” he says, and cutting the taxes of the wealthy “will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.”
Stockman condemns the Republican embrace of “the warfare state,” and he ridicules Ryan’s “defense hawk” posture by reminding us that “true conservatives” like Dwight Eisenhower would have had no use for the “neoconservative imperialism” that Republicans took on from “Irving Kristol’s ex-Trotskyites three decades ago.” The warfare state has given us a $775 billion defense budget we don’t need and can’t afford.
Next Stockman mocks Romney’s obsession with “environmental marginalia.” A much greater regulatory problem, Stockman says, is inadequate regulation of banks. Forget “too big to fail,” he says; these banks are “too big to manage internally and to regulate externally.” The banks need to be broken up “by regulatory decree.” And while Romney is preoccupied with Dodd-Frank, Stockman says that “restoration of Glass-Steagall” is what’s really important.
Instead of serious reform of entitlements, Stockman accuses Ryan of pushing “mere make believe” reforms. And Ryan’s proposal to take an ax to domestic discretionary spending would yield only “a rounding error’s worth of savings.”
Stockman insists that major new taxes are essential to solving our long-term problems. His preference is a national sales tax or consumption tax. He makes plain his contempt for Ryan’s “fetish” for cutting the top income tax rates, and concludes that Ryan’s budget plan as a whole “is devoid of credible math.”
Just in case that wasn’t stinging enough, here’s Stockman’s parting shot:
“Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation’s fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity — just empty sermons.”
Or, to put it somewhat differently, “Where’s the beef?”