How do you select a running mate whose sole claim to the media spotlight is his budget proposal — and then try to distance yourself from his budget proposal?
That seemed to be what presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney was doing over the weekend. “I have my budget plan, and that’s the budget plan we’re going to run on,” he said.
That is not, however, the budget plan Democrats are going to try to pin on the Romney-Ryan ticket.
And what did Romney mean? Which parts of the Ryan budget will Romney endorse and which will he replace with his own?
Specifically, what about the Defense Department?
Romney wants to increase defense spending, tying it to 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Time Magazine said that would add $100 billion in 2013.
Ryan, meanwhile, has proposed cutting the defense budget by about half as much as President Obama would over a 10-year period.
So which is it?
When it comes to entitlement reforms, the rhetoric of the two men is much more closely aligned, although both seem to have evolved a bit over time.
Ryan has enthusiastically supported allowing people to invest part of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts, although his web site currently doesn’t mention that.
Romney, as well, supported private investments in the mid-2000s. Now his plan is to gradually increase the retirement age and to reduce the benefits paid to wealthier retired Americans.
They are close, as well, on their plans for Medicare, with each having espoused plans to would install a type of premium support system that lets seniors buy their own insurance, with varying levels of help from the government depending on need. Some call it a voucher system.
But the difference, as this ABC news piece suggests, may lie in whether Romney decides to enthusiastically embrace those plans as a central part of his campaign.
Up to now, they have existed on his web site, but he hasn’t gone out of his way to push them daily in stump speeches.
It may be a good idea to start. Entitlements pose a looming crisis in the nation. That was highlighted this week by an Associated Press story on Social Security, which said the program’s current $2.7 trillion surplus will be wiped out by 2033, and that funding gaps from then on would grow rapidly if nothing is done.
While 2033 may seem a long way off — especially if you’re a politician running for office today and you know you will be happily retired in 20 years and not available to take the blame — the time to act is now.
As Social Security public trustee Chuck Blahous told the Associated Press, “To me, ‘urgent’ doesn’t begin to describe it. I would say we’re somewhere between critical and too late to deal with it.”
Just by virtue of selecting Ryan, Romney seems to be signaling he wants to emphasize these points. Certainly, President Obama wants no part of actually having to draft a budget plan that really confronts the pain necessary to avoid fiscal disaster. (Hint: just taxing the heck out of the rich won’t do it.)
But when Romney says he will be running on “my budget plan,” he needs to explain exactly what he means.