More and more Republicans are urging Mitt Romney to provide voters with the missing details of his tax and spending plans. Some even chock his weak position in the polls up to his campaign’s insistence on keeping the unpopular parts of his plan secret.
But recent events illustrate why the Romney camp might think opacity is safer than transparency.
In order to make his deficit reduction pledges even remotely plausible, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who wrote the GOP budget, calls for slashing spending in programs other than Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — still a huge chunk of the budget that includes domestic and defense discretionary spending — dramatically. Paul’s plan would reduce discretionary spending from more than 10 percent of GDP today to 3.75 percent by 2050.
Taking Romney at his word that he won’t shrink defense alone below four percent of GDP, that implies a huge category of government services will simply have to be wiped out, including consumer and environmental protections, infrastructure investment, research and development, veterans services, and education, to name a few.
But when the New York Times asked the campaign if voters were right to be worried about potential cuts to, for instance, the VA, the Romney camp shot back defensively.
“That is false,” the campaign responded.
In an accompanying note, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul added, “Gov. Romney and Paul Ryan are committed to keeping faith with our veterans and providing the care they so richly deserve.”
During the GOP convention, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) accused Romney of feigning support for hurricane victims, given his support for a budget that cuts agencies like FEMA so deeply.
“Paul Ryan’s budget would gut disaster funding, making it much harder to get aid to our fellow Americans in their time of need,” Reid said. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own.”
The Romney camp was apoplectic. One described the attack as shameless. Where, in the Ryan budget, did Republicans call for slashing disaster programs?
Nowhere. But that’s by design. It’s worse to suffer criticism for eschewing detail than for providing too much.
Romney was widely attacked back in April when reporters overheard him while waiting for him outside a fundraiser and printed his remarks.
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
He’s run into the same problem when he’s hinted at popular provisions of the tax code he might limit or eliminate. Which is why his conservative critics will have to keep on worrying.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.