fresh voices from the front lines of change







With one month to go before the Iowa caucuses, the debate among Republican primary voters for the moment is between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. It would be premature to conclude that it stays that way all month -- the top two candidates in the Dec. 2003 Iowa polls were Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt -- but one would think even Republicans have grown tired of the parade of 15-minute frontrunners.

So what is it that Republican voters are actually choosing between? How do their policy visions differ?

Here is Gingrich's "Contract With America" plan. Here is Romney's "Believe In America" plan.

What's the difference?

Not much.

More Tax Cuts For The Rich

Both believe we should double down on President George W. Bush's jobs strategy: cut taxes for corporations and millionaires.

When Bush did it, it resulted in the worst jobs record on record.

Yet, Romney says, cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%. Gingrich goes farther, to 12.5%.

Romney says make the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, and praises Bush by name in his plan. Gingrich opts to make an even deeper cut for the wealthy by proposing an "optional" flat tax of 15%, which every millionaire would obviously choose over the current top rate of 35%.

And both would eliminate the inheritance tax for multimillionaire heirs.

Fewer Rules On Corporate Behavior

Both appear to believe that one enormous financial crisis a generation isn't enough, as both propose completely scrapping President's Obama Wall Street reform law.

Both even go as far as to criticize's President Bush's lone attempt to regulate businesses, the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting regulation law which responded to the Enron scandal -- Romney would partially repeal it to exempt "mid-size" businesses, and Gingrich would totally repeal it.

Romney proposes a "cap" on the cost of new regulations with no suggestion he would factor in the related benefits of any regulations, monetary or otherwise.

Both propose drastically scaling back environmental protections. Both propose loosening rules regarding oil drilling, as if the BP disaster never happened. (Romney briefly references the spill as merely something that happened which "provided political cover" for Obama's energy policy.)

Romney calls the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts "anachronisms" and calls the President's goal to create millions of jobs producing clean energy as an "unhealthy obsession." Gingrich proposes abolishing the EPA altogether, and replacing it with an "Environmental Solutions Agency" with little to no power to implement solutions.

Romney would change the Clean Air Act so the EPA would no longer have the power to address climate change. Gingrich wouldn't have an EPA anymore, which would achieve the same goal.

Of course, both used to be supporters of a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions, but no longer.

Turn Back The Clock On Health Care

Both trash President Obama's deficit cutting Affordable Care Act. Both pledge to repeal it. Both promise to "replace" it with something that can similarly provide health insurance for everybody, but don't bother much with explaining how that something would actually work.

Gingrich says in the answer lies in "patient power and localism." Romney says he will "return power to the states." Neither bother to note that the Affordable Care Act gives states wide flexibility to set up their own systems, so long as they cut costs and expand coverage.

Instead, they tout purchasing insurance across state lines, which without any regulatory standards, merely sets up a race to the bottom. Both also back the idea of a tax credit to buy your own insurance, never mentioning that all such ideas have shown to not provide enough money to afford what's on the market.

Of course, both used to be supporters of an individual mandate to purchase private health insurance -- the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act -- but no longer.

Undermine Retirement Security

Gingrich continues to flog partial privatization for Medicare and Social Security. Romney suggests he supports partial privatization of Medicare, saying his plan "will share those objectives" of the plan passed by the Republican House earlier this year, but holds back on the details. On Social Security, he does not indicate support for privatization, just for benefit cuts, while also rejecting any increase in the regressive payroll tax on the wealthy.

Unleash Fiscal Insanity

Both back the ludicrous Balanced Budget Amendment which would make it impossible for the federal government to respond to financial crises and prevent Great Depressions, as we just successfully did with President Obama's Recovery Act.


So why are Republican primary voters agonizing over this choice?

Both propose a radical right-wing vision for the country.

Both have showed their political insincerity and expediency by once backing conservatives ideas intended to actually try to solve problems, only to abandon them once Democrats adopted them in the spirit of compromise, and they no longer were en vogue among conservative opinion leaders. (If they wanted consistency, well, they got Rick Santorum. So I guess they don't.)

Today, Romney seems to be the choice of much of the Republican establishment. Why? Style. They fear Gingrich's propensity to say ridiculous things could destroy the party's reputation for years.

Today, Gingrich appears to be the choice of many hard-core conservatives. Why? Style. Gingrich sounds like a bigger obnoxious blowhard. Ergo, he must be the real conservative.

But for the rest of us outside of the conservative fever swamps, know that they both offer the same swill that made us all sick in the last decade.

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