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What’s the difference between Mitt Romney’s take on the economy and Paul Ryan’s?
They’re largely moving in the same direction. You want to reform government to make it less expensive, less intrusive. You want to reform taxes so that rates are lower, the base is broader, it’s simpler, there are fewer pages in the code, and it has less of a drag on the economy. For both Ryan and Romney, they’re Reaganite, Jack Kemp- style pro-growth politicians that focus on growing the economy as the No. 1 agenda item.
When you talk about growth, many people who are primarily interested in growth worry about cutting spending too much. It’s the austerity vs. growth debate.
Absolutely. That’s why you need to do tax reform at the same time. It’s what Reagan did with tax reform early on, reducing marginal tax rates and then the ’86 tax reform. But the necessary part of that is to keep spending from spiraling out of control, and particularly allowing entitlements, as the American electorate ages, from eating up more and more of the general economy.
Was the compromise that Speaker of the House Boehner was prepared to make in negotiations with the president a compromise you could have lived with? He was prepared to deal with the revenue side of the equation.
I’m in favor of more revenue—if the economy grows faster. If the economy grows 3 percent a year instead of 2 percent, that’s $2.5 trillion in more revenue for the government.
If the economy grows, everybody knows you have more revenue. Back to the point, would you have supported Boehner in that compromise?
I’ve talked to Boehner about this. The revenue that he put on the table was always from growth, never from tax increases.
Could you ever bring yourself to support Simpson-Bowles?
The only numbers in Simpson-Bowles that are clear apart from the page numbers are that it wants to take 18.5 percent of GDP, the present rate of full employment tax, up to 21. That, over the next 10 years, is a $5 trillion tax increase. The spending restraint in Simpson-Bowles is written in haiku. It’s not terribly clear.
It was clear enough for some Republicans to support. And the objection of Congressman Ryan was limited. He supported a lot of it.
I support all of the conversation about the spending cuts in Simpson-Bowles. As long as the rates are reduced so that it’s revenue-neutral. But they wanted to have tax reform that would be a Trojan horse for $5 trillion in higher taxes. That was a big no-no. That was not going anywhere. And the reason why they’ve never written Simpson-Bowles down in legislative language is, it would become clear to Republicans and the American people how big a tax increase it is.
Is Paul Ryan the ideal candidate for you? Does he better articulate the views of Grover Norquist than anybody out there, in terms of personal philosophy and economic philosophy and fiscal policy?
He has it all. The one challenge for Republicans is there’s an embarrassment of riches on the bench. You have Scott Walker, who has done back flips in the state of Wisconsin, turning that state around economically. You have Bobby Jindal, who is an expert on all sorts of things starting with health care, governor of Louisiana. Rick Scott in Florida, who’s turned his state around and made some very real steps forward. You’ve got half a dozen governors— Chris Christie—that are doing very, very interesting things. There were such a number of people that you could have chosen that it’s very interesting.
Suppose Romney is elected president …
Then we’ll have a grand bargain.
Which will be?
The Ryan Plan, largely.
Which the president called “social Darwinism.”
From a guy who was going to be the bipartisan non-name-caller, he does an awful lot of name-calling, an awful lot of blame-shifting. And he plays nasty politics for a guy who was going to bring us all together and not be red or blue, when all he does is whine about Bush. I don’t remember Bush whining about Clinton.
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