By Watchdog. Org
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney on Thursday accepted what likely will be his toughest challenge to date – defeating a sitting president.
“Mr. Chairman, delegates, I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” the former Massachusetts governor said to a rousing round of applause at the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Forum.
Distinguishing himself from some of the sharper critics who preceded him in the weeklong event, Romney struck a tone of regret rather than anger.
“I wish President (Barack) Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” Romney said. “But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”
In the rest of the 38-minute speech, Romney ranged across the policy spectrum, touching on such subjects as the economy, energy, jobs and the military.
Watchdog.org asked experts around the country for their take on Romney’s address.
Energy, Glenn Oppel, Montana Policy Institute, Bozeman, Mont.
Laying out his aggressive plan to create 12 million jobs through a four-year presidential term, Romney made energy policy his No. 1 tenet, promising American energy independence by 2020. He pledged to develop the country’s vast oil, gas and coal reserves help get there.
Romney also sought to appeal to working class voters, mention high – and rising – gas prices several time throughout the prime-time address.
Glenn Oppel, policy director for the Bozeman, Mont.-based Montana Policy Institute, cheered Romney’s natural resource mention, adding that the former governor would favor natural resource development more than the current administration.
“I don’t think a Romney administration would be as inclined to use active agency policymaking to stymie natural resource development,” Oppel said.
That friendliness, Oppel added, would likely mean mining work and “spin-off jobs” in Montana’s economy, as the Treasure State holds immense coal supplies.
Romney didn’t touch on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a planned oil pipeline slated to run from Canada to Texas. The pipeline could create 20,000 jobs, including 1,200 as it’s built through eastern Montana.
Oppell doesn’t fault Romney for not mentioning the project.
“Some voters might not be as familiar that issue as we Montanans are,” Oppel said. “Something that specific, though important, doesn’t fit into a speech of that tone.”
Romney’s promise didn’t do much for Oppel, who says American politicians hold a longstanding tradition pledging energy independence. Still, he thinks it something Romney should seek.
“It’s a worthy goal,” Oppel said, noting that several complicated issues factor into the pledge. “It’s not something you can whisk away with the whisk of a pen. It’s more complex than that.”
Public-sector pensions, Rick Dreyfuss, Commonwealth Foundation, Harrisburg, Pa.
Romney avoided touching on one of the most challenging issues that would face his potential presidency.
Chief among them is paying off a $16 trillion national debt and addressing a growing, though somewhat hidden, debt to retired public workers at all levels of government here at home.
According to a study released in June by the Pew Center onthe States, the gap between the states’ total pension obligations and the funding for them is more than $1.3 trillion – and that’s using the systems’ own suspect accounting measures. Most experts say the problem is far worse.
Rick Dreyfuss, a retired actuary and pension expert for the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank in Harrisburg, Pa., said that the next president should allow the states to keep more of their own money and allow them the flexibility to solve the coming problems on their own.
“Our deficits at the state, local and federal levels are something that we have to get our arms around,” Dreyfuss said. “He should let the states be laboratories of democracy and let them figure out their own destinies.”
Municipal pension plans are also in trouble, and they are driving cities from Stockton, Calif., to Scranton, Pa., into dire financial straits.
Even the federal government is not immune. The U.S. Postal Service is considering cutting service and closing post offices, in part because of $40 billion in unfunded liabilities for retirement benefits.
Health care, Pamela Herd, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Few if any issues have so divided the country as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the systemic health care changes dubbed “Obamacare” by the legislation’s critics.
The U.S. Supreme Court largely upheld the ACA earlier this summer, but Romney has pledged to help Congress repeal the legislation, pledging to issue an executive order to begin the process of allowing all 50 states to get ACA waivers.
Romney gave few details during Thursday’s speech about his plans for health care, mentioning the word one time in his half-hour-plus speech.
“… We will champion small businesses, America’s engine of job growth,” Romney said. “That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
“Repealing and replacing Obamacare,” however, was enough to bring the cheering crowd to its feet.
But, Pamela Herd, a University of Wisconsin-Madison associate professor of public affairs and sociology, noted that “it’s not clear what he means, what he would replace (the ACA) with. It’s a little bit hard to know exactly what he would do as president.”
Transportation, Ray Pethel, Transportation Policy Group
Among the pressing issues facing the nation is its crumbling transportation infrastructure. While it was not mentioned at all in Romney’s speech, Ray Pethtel, director of the Transportation Policy Group at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, said improving transportation infrastructure should be a pivotal issue, but is often overlooked as a casualty of political capital.
“The transportation issue both at the state and federal and, actually, local level is in pretty dire shape right now in terms of prospects for the future,” he said.”That is largely because of the lack of funds, shortages in the federal trust funds, shortages at the state level and lack of funding at the local level.
“Our political leaders at all of those levels simply haven’t had the will to square up transportation funding with transportation needs.”
Those needs are especially imperative to Virginia, which has seen growth and congestion strangle transportation networks and continued use wear down vital roadways.
“Interstate 81 in Virginia was originally designed to carry something like 12 percent trucks,” Pethtel said. “Now, it is almost 40 percent trucks. The latest projections were that the truck freight was going to increase by 159 percent over the next 20 years and automobile traffic is going to double.
“There are tremendous needs in a number of states across the nation, particularly in high-growth states like Virginia.”
Education, Jason Brooks, Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability
The glimpse that Romney gave into his education policies was a fleeting, with brief mentions of school choice that spring boarded off the central theme of jobs and the American dream.
“When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance,” Romney.
Jason Brooks, director of research and communications at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability in New York, said Romney needs to expand his school choice talk. Romney has proposed allowing Federal Title I dollars for students from low-income families to follow them wherever they go, but he needs to expand his plan to benefit all school children, Brooks said.
“Do I think they’re sufficient?” Brooks said of Romney’s Title I proposals. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
But school choice — about the only educational policy mentioned in Romney’s speech — is only one piece in the education reform puzzle, Brooks said, leaving plenty more for Romney to clarify.
While Romney says he supports giving states more freedom and flexibility in education reform, he hasn’t outlined what that looks like, Brooks said. If the No Child Left Behind Act, meant to correct failing schools, is eradicated, what — if anything — should replace it?
While Romney mentioned the desperate jobs situation for college graduates, he didn’t touch college education itself. Brooks said that’s probably because younger people tend to vote for Democrats.
“I think Obama’s focus on the issue is to mobilize young people to vote for him, and that may be why we haven’t heard much from Romney on the issue,” said Brooks.
Jobs, Dean Stansel, Florida Gulf Coast University
On the topic of job growth, Dean Stansel, professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, remains skeptical of the message that Mitt Romney continued to deliver in his speech at the RNC.
“Two of the largest obstacles to economic recovery are the huge and rapidly growing burden of taxes and regulations and the great uncertainty over the tax and regulatory environment,” Stansel said. “This election will reduce some of that uncertainty no matter who wins. But if it does not lead to a reduction in the burden of government, then entrepreneurs will not start hiring again and job growth will continue to be virtually non-existent.
“If we want to get the economy moving again, higher taxes and spending are not the solution. We need to roll back the massive increase in spending and regulation that shackles the very entrepreneurs that we need to start hiring again. And, we need long-term structural change in the way government operates, not temporary tax cuts and short-term stimulus plans,” said Stansel.
“What most politicians fail to comprehend is that they cannot actually create jobs,” he told Florida Watchdog. “They can destroy them with excessive burdens of taxes, spending, and regulation, but they can’t actually create them. With his experience in the private sector, Mitt Romney probably understands that better than Barack Obama. The question is whether or not he’ll be able to implement the right policies that create the environment for job growth. I’m not so optimistic.”
Agriculture, State Rep. Sharon Schwartz-R-Washington, Kan., and others
Romney made no references to agricultural policy directly, but his themes of family unity and entrepreneurial spirit resonated in rural Kansas.
“Most agriculture that I know is family oriented,” said Kansas State Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, who watched the speech with her husband after breaking for the night from harvesting drought damaged corn on their family farm.
Farming is a business too, however, “I liked what he said about world trade and reducing energy costs,” Schwartz said. “Both are tremendously important to agriculture.”
“Agriculture is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak economy,” said Terry Holdren, general counsel of Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest general farm organization. “That tended to make it not to be listed in the speech.”
Farmers and ranchers in Kansas and elsewhere would benefit from lower taxes, regulatory relief and other reforms that help all small businesses, Holdren said. But one agricultural question wasn’t touched.
“We heard a lot about the American melting pot during the convention,” he said.
But, in a party also focused on border security, “no one’s said anything much about what that means to the need that farmers and ranchers have for dependable temporary labor.”
The Romney campaign’s national Farmers and Ranchers Coalition for Romney outlined more detailed farm policy proposals, focused on reducing agriculture’s regulatory costs
Those costs “whack the small farmers – the ones who can least afford them,” said Chuck Connor, a former deputy U.S. agriculture secretary and national director of the Romney coalition.
Farm Progress Publications, a Chicago media company that runs the nation’s largest network of online farm publications, reports the Romney campaign also would OK the construction of the controversial Keystone Pipeline through Kansas to promote both increased jobs and lower fuel and fertilizer prices.
And while the campaign promotes tighter immigration controls at U.S. borders, in agriculture, “we need immigrant workers,” Connor said. “We also need a non-bureaucratic way to verify the reliable, legal workers.”
Other specific Romney farm proposals include seeking expanded trade promotion authority to boost U.S. farm exports; permanently repealing federal estate taxes currently scheduled to increase Jan. 1, and requiring proposers of new farm environmental and other regulations to come up with cost-benefit analyses first.
Watchdog writers Dustin Hurst, Eric Boehm, Kirsten Adshead , Carten Cordell, Katie Watson, Yael Ossowski and Gene Meyer contributed to this report.
Modified Aug. 31 to correct spelling of Terry Holdern