A more serious Mitt Romney?: 'Bold,' 'astute' speech draws wide praise

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a foreign policy address to cadets at the Citadel on October 7, 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina. Romney spoke about the war in Afghanistan and other military topics. (Richard Ellis, Getty Images) Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a foreign policy address to cadets at the Citadel on October 7, 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina. Romney spoke about the war in Afghanistan and other military topics. (Richard Ellis, Getty Images)

Mitt Romney at the Defending the American Dream Summit from AFPhq on Vimeo.

The speech Mitt Romney gave Friday stands out from the others in his Republican primary campaign. Bold was one word used to describe it today by both the Wall Street Journal editorial board and New York Times columnist and best-selling author David Brooks.

Brooks wrote that Romney is running "an impressive presidential campaign" in a column Tuesday titled, "The Serious One." Brooks concluded that "Romney is running in an atmosphere in which it is extremely difficult to remain serious and substantive. Yet he is doing it. Democrats should not underestimate him."

The column was based on Romney's speech Friday at the "Defending the American Dream" summit in Washington, D.C.. The event was hosted by Americans for Prosperity, and Romney mapped out his proposals for the U.S. budget.

The speech got a tepid response because the crowd was largely made up of fiscal conservatives tied to the tea party, reported Alicia M. Cohn for the Hill's Ballot Box blog. But others praised Romney, including Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who told National Review Online's Robert Costa that Romney's speech "shows we're all singing from the same hymnal. It shows me that (Romney's) willing to be bold and specific on the big issues of the day."

"It was politically astute and substantively bold," Brooks wrote, "a quality you don't automatically associate with the Romney campaign."

The conservative Journal editorial board also reviewed the speech on Tuesday in an editorial titled "Romney's Fiscal Awakening":

"It's notable," the editorial stated, "that the former Massachusetts governor is finally beginning to wade into the deeper end of the reform pool."

Romney proposed reforms of the expensive entitlement programs that are major concerns now and going forward — Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. His proposals sounded loud echoes to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's plan, but came with a new twist that Brooks and the Journal considered smart and creative because it just might work in both reality and in a campaign.

Brooks wasn't surprised, he wrote: "The Romney campaign operates like a smooth-running White House, with a process to identify the core issues, cull ideas and present options to the candidate."

Those ideas include:

Reverse President Obama's defense cuts, but bring government spending back down to 20 percent of the gross domestic product by the end of his first term; the Obama Administration has grown government spending to 24 percent of the economy

Repeal "Obamacare"

Privatize Amtrak and cut down subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Reduce foreign aid

Eliminate Title X family planning funding

Reduce the federal payroll by at least 10 percent

The boldest ideas were reserved for the entitlement programs.

On Social Security, he wants to gradually raise the retirement age to keep pace with longer life spans

On Medicaid, Romney wants to turn it back to the states to craft solutions that fit them

On Medicare, Romney called for two options for seniors: the fee-for-service system now in place, which critics say is an incentive for health care providers to worry more about quantity than quality or cost, and a premium support system in which the government gives beneficiaries money to shop for their own health care plans

"The Romney approach sets up a prudent experiment," Brooks wrote. "If real competition works, seniors will migrate toward that. If it doesn't, seniors will stay in Medicare, and conservatives will have a lot of rethinking to do."

Ryan endorsed the plan, one proposed by a former Clinton budget chief and former New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.

"Alice Rivlin has been pushing this for a while," Ryan told National Review Online. "It works just as well as the other ideas. It's different than what we have proposed, but it's a fixed amount that you can take to either your private plans or a traditional fee-for-service system. As far as budget savings and driving patient-centered reforms, it still accomplishes that goal."

It also accomplishes a campaign strategy.

"The plan allows Romney to justly claim that he is helping to lead the fight against runaway health-care spending," Forbes health care policy analyst Avik Roy wrote. "And that, in turn, may help Romney get a second look from the skeptical Republican base."

Beyond the primary, it also may help Romney blunt a potential Obama attack, wrote Brooks and the Journal. By allowing seniors to choose between a fixed amount for Medicare or for their own shopping for health care, Romney blocks Obama from saying he is out to kill Medicare.

Slate public policy reporter David Weigel called the speech "Romney's bid to become the credible entitlement reformer who won't waste a Republican mandate in 2012."

Romney's fiscal policy speech was also a positive for the Republican Party, Commentary's Peter Wehner wrote: "All the GOP candidates have now endorsed, at least in some significant measure, some version of the plan laid out by Representative Paul Ryan and/or former Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton OMB Director Alice Rivlin, with Romney's being the most specific and detailed. ... More broadly, at a time when politicians are excoriated for their lack of courage and unwillingness to grapple with the most significant problems facing the nation, the Republican Party deserves credit. On entitlement reform, which has historically been politically lethal, the GOP is doing the right thing."

Conservative analyst and journalist Yuval Levin, writing for the National Review Online, approved of Romney's proposals and said that "if he combines this with an equally serious and straightforward tax-reform agenda as part of a plan to encourage economic growth and job creation, Romney could really claim the mantle of the conservative reformer in this race.

To read the full speech, visit Romney's website.

Of course, not everyone was convinced. Most all who praised Romney's plans asked for more detail.

And Reason blogger Peter Suderman blasted Romney's ideas on Medicare as "ObamaCare for seniors — but with the addition of a government-run 'public option,' also known as traditional Medicare. The plan bears all of the now-familiar hallmarks of a Romney policy proposal. It's vague. It's designed for maximum pandering. And Romney was against it before he was for it."

Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller attacked Romney's substance and delivery, complaining that he used a teleprompter.

"Governor Romney's plan that protects subsidies, the Defense Department, and nibbles around the edges on entitlements leaves no doubt that he has no realistic plan or intention to honestly balance the budget," Miller said.

Huntsman backs the Ryan plan and supports defense cuts.

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