Romney, channeling Reagan, reveals economic agenda

Posted: Mar 08, 2007 12:01 AM
Romney, channeling Reagan, reveals economic agenda

After his well-received speech before the conservative political action conference here last week, former governor Mitt Romney met with two key leaders in the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.

Romney's dinner guests were Jack Kemp, the architect of the Reagan tax cuts that lifted the economy out of a deep recession, and former congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota, a key leader in the Opportunity Society band of House warriors who fought for lower tax rates to spur economic growth and entrepreneurial expansion.

Kemp has not signed on to any Republican presidential campaign as yet, but he likes Romney's emphasis on further cutting taxes on investment and savings and overhauling the tax code. Weber, a supporter of Sen. John McCain in the 2000 presidential primaries, has joined Mitt Romney's team and is encouraging Kemp to climb aboard early.

The meeting illustrates how much importance Romney is placing on tax cuts in his presidential bid and on economic advisers who share his belief in the Reagan economic model. Reagan made tax cuts the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, and Romney intends to do the same in his campaign for the Republican nomination.

In a PowerPoint presentation at the Detroit Economic Club last month, replete with an economic slide show, Romney said the country would face two choices on taxes next year, asking the business leaders, "What is the better course for America? A European model of high taxes and regulations, or low taxes and free trade, the Ronald Reagan model?"

"That's the choice the next president is going to make," he said, adding ominously that the Democrats were "already working hard to implement a massive tax increase."

You can tell a lot about politicians by the people around them, and that is especially true in presidential politics. Romney has already put together a stellar team of economic heavyweights:

-- Vin Weber, who is chairman of Romney's domestic policy board in charge of providing him with a broad range of economic proposals and advisers.

-- Cesar Conda, a longtime economic policy and tax-cut strategist on Capitol Hill who was chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and a key player in Republican tax-cut battles of the past two decades.

-- R. Glenn Hubbard, President Bush's first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers who was on the short list last year for Fed chairman. A staunch tax cutter, he has been a key consultant to the Treasury and the Federal Reserve System.

-- N. Gregory Mankiw, a free-market economist at Harvard who chaired Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005, and has been an adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Congressional Budget Office.

-- John Cogan, a Hoover Institution economist who was one of Bush's 2000 campaign policy advisers and one of the architects of the Bush tax-cut plan. He brings broad economic and budget expertise from a variety of key posts in the Reagan administration.

-- Brian Reardon, a tax and budget policy adviser in the Bush White House who helped put together the president's 2003 plan to accelerate the tax cuts. He is now an economic consultant.

Weber is still in the process of building not only a hefty team but one that demonstrates Romney is attracting a prominent field of advisers around him who are committed Reagan supply-siders.

Arizona Sen. John McCain has former Texas senator Phil Gramm and a few others advising him, though he still has to explain why he was one of only two Republican senators to vote against all of the Bush tax-rate cuts. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has not put together his economic team, though none of his campaign advisers are people who rallied to the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s.

In his Detroit address on the economy, Romney went beyond the need to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, hinting strongly the income tax rates need to be further reduced.

"We need reform of our tax code. We need to move it toward a system that's encouraging of growth, fairness and simplicity," he said. That's a powerful economic message to America's taxpayers, burdened by a costly, inefficient tax code that is incomprehensible to workers and businesses that labor under its yoke.

Romney's presidential campaign faces many daunting challenges in the months to come and remains far behind front-runners Giuliani and McCain, largely because he is still not that well-known.

But his CPAC speech here, where he won the straw poll from the often hard-to-please conservative activists who heard him, has given him new momentum and, thanks to C-SPAN, increased political visibility.

It remains to be seen whether he can revive Ronald Reagan's spirit of optimism and the belief that America still remains a land of opportunity if we stick to the free-market, low-tax, free-trade principles that have made the United States the most powerful economy on Earth.