As James Pethokoukis at Enterprise Blog points out, Mitt Romney's economic ideas have been a combination of recycled nostrums from 2008 and a far less enthusiastic adoption of Paul Ryan's ideas on entitlements.
But recently, Romney is singing a different tune:
Romney's tax plan - eliminating investment taxes for the middle class - was recycled from 2008. And his approach to entitlement reform was maddeningly airy: "As president, Romney's own plan will differ [from Paul Ryan's approach to fixing Medicare], but it will share those objectives."
But no more. Romney has made several moves of late ensuring that if he's the nation's 45th president, Americans will have cast an affirmative vote for something.
First, Romney said his policies would help U.S. growth accelerate to 4 percent annually. Gutsy. Recall how Tim Pawlenty was mocked mercilessly for setting a 5 percent growth target. Overall, U.S. GDP growth has averaged 3.3 percent the past 50 years. But many economists think aging America will need to settle for growth closer to 2 percent long term. Romney, however, seems to agree with consultant McKinsey that a higher retirement age and smarter immigration policy, along with smarter regulation and pro-investment tax policy, could allow the U.S. to maintain its historic growth rate, if not higher. More importantly, the target represents a rejection of the declinist mentality.
Second, Romney has basically adopted Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan - helping seniors pay for private insurance - with the twist of giving seniors the option of sticking with a government program. By embracing a pro-market, patient-centered approach, Romney has invited Team Obama to attack him for trying to "privatize" Medicare as surely as if he advocated phasing out the system entirely. Another bold call.
Third, Romney proposed capping government spending at 20 percent of GDP and cutting $500 billion from government spending during his first term. Not only does this directly strike at the liberal consensus that spending as a share of output must rise as America ages, it invites another Obama attack: the GOP nominee is proposing economy-killing austerity.
So now Romney will have to advocate and defend - if he is the nominee - not just attack and deride. And America will have a choice, not just an echo.
Romney is hardly an instinctive politician, but he sees where Obama is going with his class warfare campaign and realizes there's an opening for some genuine conservative solutions to be offered to our current economic crisis. Obama's rhetoric will inspire the envious, the bitter, and the perpetual moochers who see any cut in government spending as a threat to their gravy train.
Romney's ideas still don't go far enough -- $500 billion is a pittance compared to what needs to be cut. But it's a grand start and if he achieves an economic growth rate of 4%, increased revenues would go a long way toward closing the deficit.