The Businessman Versus the Career Politician
Mitt Romney zinged Rick Perry with an effective, if facile, line the other night at the GOP debate. Whom do Republican voters want as president, asked Romney: a businessman like him or a career politician like Perry? A slam-dunk choice for career politician-averse GOP voters, you say? Think again. Polls suggest that GOP voters are breaking decisively for Perry over Romney -- at least, currently. The reasons are many, but a good place to start is with a fresh look at RomneyCare, Mitt Romney's signature legislation as Massachusetts governor.
If Rick Perry is shrewd, he should start asking GOP voters why Mitt Romney, with all his supposed business acumen, would have foisted a new government entitlement on hard-pressed Massachusetts taxpayers. In fact, Rick Perry may want to ask Republicans which model is best for America: Romney's Massachusetts, with its big, overextended, and indebted state government, or low-tax Texas, where Perry and other conservatives are keeping state government in check and the economy floating.
There's certainly no gainsaying Mitt Romney's business success. But gainsaying Romney's tenure as the Bay State's governor is another matter. Did Massachusetts citizens really gain from Romney's years in the private sector?
If RomneyCare is the measure, then the answer is a definite no.
RomneyCare has metastasized into yet another big-government cancer. Barack Obama wasn't being entirely disingenuous when he cited RomneyCare as his model for Washington-run health care.
Lately, some Romney apologists have suggested that RomneyCare, as first conceived by the former Massachusetts governor, had its virtues. Say the apologists, the trouble with RomneyCare came when now-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and the big spenders and government-growers in the state legislature got their hooks into the program.
This only shows what any good conservative knows about an entitlement, no matter how limited in intention. Liberal politicians -- and more than some establishment Republicans -- will find ways to grow entitlements to their advantage. Does anyone really think Social Security, which is heading for crisis, would be a hot topic if it had stayed a meager pension supplement as started by FDR in the 1930s?
What businessman-turned-Governor Mitt Romney gave to Deval Patrick and Massachusetts' liberal legislators with RomneyCare was an exploitable opportunity -- an opportunity to take Romney's supposed "conservative" health care program and blow a hole in it bigger than the hole that sank the Titanic. (RomneyCare was more ambitious to start with than apologists claim, anyway.)
The fact is that government entitlements, however modestly begun, are going to follow the iron law of politicians' self-interest. Growing government, expanding and increasing bennies, and shoveling contracts to special interests are the tickets to politicians' job security -- or so has been the case in Washington and plenty of state capitals for too many decades.
But there are always exceptions. Note that there is no such thing as "PerryCare." Texas' longest-tenured governor and career politician Rick Perry hasn't pushed an entitlement like RomneyCare.
Under Perry's leadership, Texas remains a big small-government state. Massachusetts is a small big-government state. Romney can argue all he wants about balancing state budgets and not raising taxes when governor, but the truth remains that Romney's government-dominated health care scheme was a Pandora's box, which has been gleefully opened by his very liberal and profligate successor. There's no escaping that Romney is a stakeholder in Massachusetts' current state government troubles, including its whopping debt and budget woes.
Not incidentally, for all Mitt Romney's boasting about not raising taxes in Massachusetts, RomneyCare, in fact, has upped taxpayer bills in two important ways. As the Wall Street Journal reported last year:
While Massachusetts' uninsured rate has dropped to around 3%, 68% of the newly insured since 2006 receive coverage that is heavily or completely subsidized by taxpayers. While Mr. Romney insisted that everyone should pay something for coverage, that is not the way his plan has turned out. More than half of the 408,000 newly insured residents pay nothing, according to a February 2010 report by the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state's insurance exchange. [Italics added]
And this tidbit from the same Wall Street Journal article:
Mr. Romney's promise that getting everyone covered would force costs down also is far from being realized. One third of state residents polled by Harvard researchers in a study published in "Health Affairs" in 2008 said that their health costs had gone up as a result of the 2006 reforms. A typical family of four today faces total annual health costs of nearly $13,788, the highest in the country. Per capita spending is 27% higher than the national average. [Italics added.]
Yet for all of RomneyCare's evident failure, businessman Romney has stubbornly continued to defend the program. A smart businessman -- and a smarter politician -- would have acknowledged RomneyCare's failure, claimed to have learned lessons, cut his losses, and moved on.
Or perhaps Mitt Romney is moving on. Romney's recent attacks on Rick Perry over Perry's reform-mindedness about Social Security should give GOP voters further pause about Romney's judgment.
In a broadside at Perry, as reported by Politico, Romney said:
The issue isn't so much how we finance Social Security[.] ... It's that Gov. Perry, in his book "Fed Up," said Social Security had been "forced on us" and by no measure is Social Security anything but 'a failure.' That is being against not just how you finance Social Security, but being against Social Security.
No, the issue isn't how Social Security is financed, any more than how RomneyCare is financed, and who, directly or not, pays the freight. Huge debts and deficits are good things, we're to suppose, Governor?
For Mitt Romney, the issue is about getting elected, even if that means selling out sensibility and tough-mindedness about Social Security. What does the nation gain if Romney is willing to scorch the earth over needed reforms to Social Security? What does that say about Mitt Romney?
GOP voters' choice isn't between businessman Romney and career politician Perry. Over Social Security, and entitlements generally, Mitt Romney is reframing the choice. The choice now is between demagogue Mitt Romney and conservative Governor Rick Perry.