If things go his way, Mitt Romney could be President of the United States in less than eight months, and the former Massachusetts governor has some pretty definitive ideas about how he wants to deal with the looming fiscal crisis that could define – or consume – a Romney presidency.
In a Wednesday morning interview with TIME at a midtown Manhattan hotel, Romney, in good spirits despite the lingering effects of a bad cold, staked out critical public positions on how he would manage the nation’s most pressing issue.
Come November, would a President-elect Romney want a lame-duck Barack Obama and the current Congress to dig into the overwhelming mix of scheduled tax increases and spending cuts that kick in around January 1?
“Of course not,” Romney said; that job “absolutely” should wait for the new Administration. “I would like to be able to deal with these issues on a structural basis, on a permanent basis as opposed to a stopgap effort that would require unraveling and reevaluation.”
Romney suggested that there may be alternatives to a so-called “grand bargain,” a giant deal between the two parties that would combine tax reform, spending cuts, extensions of expiring tax cuts, entitlement reform, and an increase to the federal debt LIMIT. Although Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, many members of Congress, and quite a few political and budget analysts believe a grand bargain is the best way to prevent the nation’s economy from crashing, Romney wants to keep his options open[DELETED].
“Reform can occur in a grand bargain or can occur piece by piece,” he said. “One [option] is to wait and deal with these one by one or deal with them in a grand bargain. The other is to have some kind of continuing resolution to say let’s leave things as they are as opposed to the cliff, leave it for 30 days or 90 days as we work out these other programs. It’s something that the Congress and I, if I’m fortunate enough to be President, would work out and hopefully reach a measure that had no disruptive effect on the economy.” Romney said, “I can’t tell you whether it’s going to be done in day 10 or day 20 or day 50, but I can say a lot of things are going to happen on day 1, and then over the coming weeks, working together with good Democrats and good Republicans, we’ll get the country going again.”
The stakes are enormous. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office indicated that the failure to renew the Bush-era personal income tax rates and head off automatic spending cuts put in place by a previous budget deal would send the economy back into a recession, increasing unemployment and slowing down GDP growth during a fragile period. Many in Washington and on Capitol Hill have assumed progress would need to be made in November and December, after the election but before the gigantic tax and spending changes automatically kick in.
Yet Romney believes his election would signal imminent positive change to the country and the business community. “If I’m lucky enough to be elected,” he said, “the consumers and the small-business people in this country will realize that they have a friend in the White House who is actively going to encourage economic growth, and there will be a resurgence in confidence in this country and a willingness to take risks, to invest, to add employees. I think it will be very positive news to the American economy.” That expectation leads Romney to believe that neither lame-duck activity nor a grand bargain are necessary.
The former Massachusetts governor displayed great confidence in his ability to handle the demands of steering the economy. In response to recent criticisms that his experience heading Bain Capital does not translate into job creation expertise, he said, “I spent twenty five years in the private sector. And that obviously teaches you something that you don’t learn if you haven’t spent any time in the private sector.” Taking a pointed shot at Obama, he added, “right now we have an economy in trouble, and someone who spent their career in the economy is more suited to help fix the economy than someone who spent his life in politics and as a community organizer.”
“For someone who spent their life in the economy, they understand how that works,” Romney continued. “And it’s very clear, by virtue of the President’s record that he does not, and he is struggling. Look at him right now. He just doesn’t have a clue what to do to get this economy going. I do. I laid out a fifty-nine step plan that encompasses a whole series of efforts that will together get this economy going and put people back to work.”
Asked several times about the President’s recent promise to put Romney’s history as a venture capitalist at the center of the campaign, the Republican candidate repeatedly turned to the incumbent’s record and experience, rather than touting his own. But when pressed to lay out a particular area in which his Bain career would make him a better jobs President, Romney was unusually specific. “Let’s take energy, for instance,” he said. “I understand that in some industries, the input cost of energy is a major factor in whether an industry is going to locate in the United States or go elsewhere. So, when at Bain Capital, we started a new steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, the cost of energy was a very important factor to the success of that enterprise. When the President is making it harder to mine coal, to use coal, to take advantage of our gas resources, to make it harder to get our oil resources – all those things combined to make our cost of energy higher than it needs to be, and it drives away enterprises from this country. It sends it to places that have lower-cost energy. I understand the impact of those kinds of factors on job creation.”
The head cold notwithstanding, Romney is coming off a successful few weeks. His visit to Manhattan netted more than $10 million in fundraising, and the national conversation (including comments from President Obama and Vice President Biden) has lately centered on the economy—a winning issue for him, according to his aides. Romney and his staffers were upbeat, chatting easily and appearing relaxed. Before hurrying to Washington for a speech, Romney took a particular interest in examining the series of family photographs TIME has assembled for this week’s cover story on the political lessons Romney learned from his mother.