[Posted by Karl]
Reason’s Peter Suderman recently noted that GOP front-runner Mitt Romney’s most recent budgetary proposals are vaporware:
Indeed, exploring his economic policy proposals is rather like touring a Hollywood backlot. Like a street façade on a movie set, Romney’s economic plans are designed to project an outward appearance of functionality. But when you look behind their cleverly made-up fronts, there’s nothing to see. Romney’s policy offerings on taxes, spending, and entitlements consistently lack crucial structural details; his campaign seems intent on emulating the outward appearance of policy proposals without providing anything that’s actually workable.
I feel obligated to note this, having held out some hope that Romney was improving on his 160-page economic plan that managed to say almost nothing important.
Romney’s platitudes, while vague, are not surprising. The man whose job he seeks, Barack Obama, took a worse tack. Before the midterm elections, Obama punted our structural debt problem to the Bowles-Simpson commission; he abandoned the chairmen’s recommendations after the elections.
However, on this score, the White House has been trying out some revisionist history with willing organs like the New York Times, claiming Obama has come to adopt most of the recommendations, “though his proposals do not go as far.” The new narrative:
Faced with an even more intransigent opposition after Republicans captured the House in the 2010 elections, Mr. Obama made a tactical retreat, suppressing his instincts to “go big” in favor of a go-slow approach.
He settled into trench warfare, waiting for House Republicans to make their fiscal moves and betting they would get so much criticism that ultimately they would compromise — much like what happened between President Bill Clinton and Republicans in the 1990s. Last summer, Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner nearly clinched a “grand bargain” reducing deficits up to $3 trillion over 10 years, but the deal fell apart over taxing the wealthy — an issue that continues to divide the parties.
Today, Mr. Obama and Republicans are battling rather than making deals, positioning themselves for an election that will determine which side has the upper hand in December, when critical budget deadlines could force a compromise in a lame-duck Congress.
Mr. Obama said that if he had “put his arms around” the plan immediately, Mr. Bowles recalled, it “would have been savaged by Republicans, and that would have killed it.”
The new storyline bears little relationship to reality. Obama’s proposal in April was to the left of Bowles-Simpson, which was supported by at least three conservative Republican Senators. The “grand bargain” negotiations broke down after Obama rejected the Bowles-Simpson approach to tax reform. And Obama rejected Bowles-Simpson from the start because that plan also included a politically suicidal middle-class tax increase. (It’s worth noting that the left-leaning Noam Scheiber suggests — or hopes — Obama will let the Bush tax cuts die if he gets a lame duck second term.)
The most telling part of the new budget narrative is how bad it makes Obama look, so long as you pay attention. The NYT story begins with Obama’s April budget speech, which “flayed” the plan put forth by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). This was very obviously the action of a candidate campaigning, instead of a president leading, let alone negotiating. Scroll back up to the blockquote — the pro-Obama spin is now that he waited for the GOP to act and then exploit it politically. This attributes vision to the administration that was not observed at the time, but this reimagined flattery-in-hindsight is completely cynical in nature. Even the Ryan plan was a bare necessity to address our ballooning public debt. Obama was completely irresponsible, but we are now told he was clever.
In short, the general election will likely feature a challenger selling vaporware on the budget because the incumbent refuses to offer a serious proposal and will viciously savage anyone offering even vaporware. This is why I learned to stop worrying and love the debt bomb.