Three holes in Romney's economic plan

@CNNMoney January 25, 2012: 5:25 AM ET
On some of the toughest economic challenges of the day -- housing, taxes and spending - Mitt Romney's plan is missing key policy details.

On some of the toughest economic challenges of the day -- housing, taxes and spending - Mitt Romney's plan is missing key policy details.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Above all else, the Romney campaign has one ethos: Our candidate will fix the economy.

But on some of the toughest economic challenges of the day -- housing, taxes and spending -- Mitt Romney's economic plan is missing key policy details.

And months on the campaign trail haven't filled the gaps.

Romney wants Americans to pay lower income taxes, but hasn't said what the new rates will be, what the bracket structure will look like, or when he wants them to take effect.

He wants to cut government spending to 20% of GDP, but is cloudy on exactly how that will happen.

And his economic plan barely even mentions housing -- one of the economy's biggest drags.

"These plans are always long on promise and short on numbers," said Robert Bixby, the executive director of The Concord Coalition. "And this is no exception."

Taxes

Romney's tax plan would mean big tax cuts and a corresponding reduction in federal revenue.

The plan eliminates taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for taxpayers who make less than $200,000. It also calls for the elimination of the estate tax, and a reduction in the tax rate paid by corporations from 35% to 25%.

What, exactly, Romney proposes for personal income tax rates is more difficult to tease out. (Read Newt Gingrich's tax plan.)

Both the official economic plan and the Romney campaign website say the candidate wants to "maintain current tax rates on personal income."

That means a 35% tax rate on top-earning Americans. But in a debate last week, he suggested he would lower the top rate to 25% or even 20% when asked to identify the highest rate any American should pay.

"More than 25%, I think, is taking too much out of our pockets," Romney said.

Mitt Romney's 'timid' tax plan

Without giving a timetable, Romney has said in the past that he would like to move to a "fairer, flatter, simpler tax structure" in the long run. But when these lower rates would go into effect is unclear.

And what about Americans who are not at the top end of the pay scale? The campaign has not released any details on Romney's eventual plans for those tax brackets.

A campaign spokeswoman told CNNMoney that while Romney "has not yet released the specifics of his plan, he believes a top rate of 25% is reasonable in principle; it is consistent with a flatter, fairer, simpler approach."

Romney's competitors have been more specific. Newt Gingrich, for example, has proposed an optional 15% flat tax on income.

Spending

Like many politicians, Romney falls short when it comes to naming specific budget cuts that back his ambitious goals for cutting back on federal spending.

Romney says he would cap spending at 20% of GDP, immediately reduce non-security discretionary accounts by 5% and pursue a balanced budget amendment.

With federal spending currently at around 24% of GDP, that means huge cuts.

Romney wants to cut funding for relatively small programs like Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, foreign aid, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Title X family planning.

Romney: No more money for Big Bird

He does detail a few bigger ticket items, like a 10% reduction in the size of the federal workforce, which would mean around 250,000 fewer jobs. He also calls for a modification to Medicaid that would turn it into a block grant program.

Bixby described these cuts as "mere trinkets."

To reach 20% of GDP, more spending reductions will be needed, and Romney is light on the details.

"It gets very difficult to cut spending to match today's tax levels," Bixby said. "And really there isn't anything in the proposal that says how he would do that."

As for a balanced budget, Romney's tax plan would sharply reduce government revenue, something that when coupled with an opposition to cutting Pentagon spending, makes a balancing of accounts all but impossible.

But Romney's lack of specificity on spending cuts is not unique. Of the final four Republican candidates, only Ron Paul has provided a detailed scheme that pinpoints spending levels for programs and agencies.

Housing

The housing market remains tied in knots. One in every 69 homes had at least one foreclosure filing last year, while 804,000 homes were repossessed. In total, more than 4 million homes have been lost to foreclosure over the past five years. (Has Obama's housing policy failed?)

His official plan is virtually silent on the subject, but Romney has briefly commented on the housing crisis in other venues, offering prescriptions that critics have labeled insufficient.

"The best way to get this economy going again is to get the overhang of all these foreclosures pushed through the system, come out the other end, letting people get back into homes at reasonable prices and renegotiate them," Romney said Monday in Florida.

At a debate later that day, Romney said "you have to get government out of the mess," but added that fraud prevention was important and "you're going to have to help people see if they can't get more flexibility from their banks."

In an October interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, Romney criticized the Obama administration for interfering in the market, thereby exacerbating the foreclosure glut, and characterized the first-time home buyer tax credit as an "ineffective idea."

Romney's Bain blowback

In the same interview, Romney expressed a willingness to consider a program that would help individuals refinance their mortgages as a way to help keep their homes, a strategy the Obama administration has deployed with marginal success.

But even that is to be announced.

"I'm not signing on," Romney said, "until I find out who's going to pay and who's going to get bailed out, and that's not something which we know all the answers to."

But Bixby said Romney's team will have to fill in the gaps as the campaign drags on.

"There are some big holes here," he said. "There is a lot that falls into the category of 'still to come'." To top of page

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