Seeking to capitalize on his reputation as a private-sector virtuoso, Mitt Romney on Tuesday outlined an economic package he said would generate 11.5 million new jobs and cut discretionary spending by 5 percent to save $20 billion.
The Republican presidential contender offered a 10-point plan, accompanied by a detailed, 160-page “business plan." Among other things, he said he would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, eliminate taxes on savings and investments for people earning $200,000 or less annually, eliminate the estate tax, reduce federal oversight on new energy projects, and curb the influence of labor unions.
Romney offered his proposal two days before President Obama is set to deliver his own speech on jobs and the economy to a joint session of Congress. Romney's venue: a truck company in Nevada, a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate and one that will host one of the crucial early contests of next year's presidential election.
Brandishing a smartphone to illustrate his point, Romney said the president "doesn't have a clue" how to handle the economy and likened Obama's strategy to stuffing quarters into a disconnected payphone.
“President Obama’s strategy is a pay-phone strategy, and we’re in a smartphone world,” Romney said.
The speech comes as Romney appears to have lost the front-runner status he has held for many months in the GOP presidential race. He's now a solid second behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry in national polls. Perry has outstripped Romney across educational and income strata, an ominous sign for the former Massachusetts governor. While Romney outlined his jobs plan, Perry was back in Texas tending to his gubernatorial duties as wildfires in Texas destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
Romney shied from mentioning his GOP rivals, but repeatedly underscored his private-sector background as a venture capitalist who invested in successful companies like office retailer Staples to contrast himself with both Obama and his GOP rivals.
“He’s not a bad guy,” Romney said of the president. “He just doesn’t know how the economy works. He never worked in the economy.”
In a USA Today op-ed published on Monday, Romney said he would “press hard” to keep marginal income-tax rates and savings and investment taxes low. He called for “a total overhaul” of the tax system, stopping short of calling for cuts in personal income-tax rates or a complete elimination of corporate taxes—a proposal that Sarah Palin tabled at an Iowa tea party rally over the weekend, and which another Republican presidential hopeful, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman derided as unworkable the next day on CBS's Face the Nation. Huntsman unveiled his job-creation strategy last week.
Romney’s personal income tax strategy, calling for a long-term effort for a “flatter” structure, was not as aggressive as others floating among the GOP field. Huntsman called for consolidating the six-rate personal income tax bracket structure into a three-rate bracket, at 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent. Huntsman also proposed a lower corporate income tax rate than Romney's, 20 percent as opposed to 25 percent. Huntsman on Sunday slammed the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, over her call to eliminate all federal corporate income taxes.
Perry’s campaign quickly ripped Romney’s speech, with press secretary Mark Miner saying in a statement, "As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney failed to create a pro-jobs environment and failed to institute many of the reforms he now claims to support."
Romney said he would eliminate the 2010 federal health care law and direct all government agencies to refrain from increasing regulatory costs. But he offered several proposals that could raise hackles among his party's populist conservatives: Invoking the name of the Republican Party's iconic conservative hero, he also proposed a “Reagan Economic Zone” comprised of countries “that want to trade on a fair and free basis,” which he said would open markets. “By virtue of doing that, we’ll trade in more places and American goods will be seen around the world,” Romney said.
Romney also proposed increasing opportunities for talented foreigners to find work here, proposing an expanded H1B visa program for skilled workers.
Romney said he would confront nations that violate trade rules, singling out China as one example. A get-tough strategy with China tracks neatly with GOP primary voters, whose fervent attention to the federal debt positions China as an unfriendly competitor. It also potentially puts on the spot Huntsman, who served as Obama's ambassador to Beijing.
He said that on the first day of his presidency, he would sign five executive orders: granting states a waiver from the 2010 health care law, instructing agencies to “immediately initiate the elimination” of Obama-era regulations seen as burdening job creation; streamlining procedures for drilling permits; sanctioning China for its trade practices; and reversing union-friendly executive orders signed by Obama.
He said he would also propose five pieces of legislation on day one: cutting the corporate tax rate; implementing free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea; initiating leases in area preapproved for energy exploration; eliminating federal retraining programs and redirecting their administration to the states; and slashing non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent.
While Romney declared his interest in promoting so-called green jobs—a hallmark of Obama's economic proposals—he said traditional energy sources must play a bigger role in solving the nation's current economic woes.
“We’re an energy-rich nation. But we’re living like an energy-poor nation,” Romney said, citing federal barriers to coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear facilities. “I want to take down those barriers … creating the energy we need at the price we can afford.”
In one further contrast with Obama, Romney went out of his way to note at the beginning of his remarks that he would be speaking not from a prepared text or from a teleprompter.
A shooting in Carson City that claimed three lives hours before Romney's address added a somber note his speech, diverting some local attention.