THE ECONOMIC plan that Mitt Romney released this week reflects the deeper tension within his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s running in a party that views tax cuts as the solution to any and every economic problem - and that brought the nation to the brink of default for the sake of ideological purity. Yet as a former governor and as a successful businessman, Romney has the know-how to challenge President Obama’s economic policies far more substantively. That comes through in his 160-page plan.
Romney doesn’t just criticize Obama’s push for green jobs; he also calls for refocusing spending toward basic research in new technologies. He doesn’t just pile onto the stimulus bill; he charges that the measure also suffered from slow permitting, a scarcity of worthy projects that were truly shovel-ready, and the Obama administration’s efforts to nudge contractors into using only unionized workers. Whether one agrees or disagrees, these positions are an invitation to debate that goes well beyond cable-news talking points.
Still more intriguing is Romney’s plan for human capital. He would streamline a host of federal retraining programs and set up “personal reemployment accounts’’ that could be used at community colleges and elsewhere. And at a time when many Republicans have taken a hard line on immigration, Romney wants to make it easier for highly skilled workers and foreign-born graduates of US universities to get visas.
To see the handiwork of Romney the policy wonk, though, readers of his economic plan do have to look past big chunks of GOP orthodoxy. He calls for limiting federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product, without explaining what he’d cut to get there; equates higher taxes on Wall Street plutocrats as an attack on “job creators’’; and calls for the repeal of new financial regulations. These gestures toward the GOP base didn’t appease the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which slammed Romney’s proposal as a “technocrat’s guide more than a reform manifesto.’’ But maybe what the economy needs is fewer manifestoes, and a more serious discussion of which policies might work.