By DAVID BROOKS
New York Times News Service
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to use the opening minutes of this debate a little differently. I’d like to say that I wish everybody could have known my father, George Romney. He was a great public servant, and I’ve always tried to live up to his example. The problem is that you get caught up in the competitiveness of a campaign and all the consultants want to make you something you’re not.
I’ve allowed that to happen to me. I’m a nonideological guy running in an ideological age, and I’ve been pretending to be more of an ideologue than I really am. I’m a sophisticated guy running in a populist moment. I’ve ended up dumbing myself down.
It hasn’t even worked. I’m behind. So I’ve decided to run the last month of this campaign as myself.
The next president is going to face some wicked problems. The first is the “fiscal cliff.” The next president is going to have to forge a grand compromise on the budget. President Obama has tried and failed to do this over the past four years. There’s no reason to think he’d do any better over the next four.
He’s failed, first, because he’s just not a very good negotiator. You don’t have to believe me. Read Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics.” Obama spent the last campaign promising to be post-partisan and then in his first weeks in office, in the fullness of his victory, he shut down all cooperation with Republicans and killed any hope of bipartisan cooperation.
Furthermore, he’s too insular. As Woodward reports, he’s constantly leaving people in the dark - his negotiating partners and people in his own party. They’re perpetually being blindsided and confused by his amorphous positions. There’s no trust. If I were in business, there’s no way I would do a deal with this guy.
The second reason there’s been no budget compromise is that Republicans have been too rigid, refusing to put revenue on the table. I’ve been part of the problem. But, globally, the nations that successfully trim debt have raised $1 in new revenue for every $3 in spending cuts. I will bring Republicans around to that position. There’s no way President Obama can do that.
The second wicked problem the next president will face is sluggish growth. I assume you know that everything President Obama and I have been saying on this subject has been total garbage. Presidents and governors don’t “create jobs.” We don’t have the ability to “grow the economy.” There’s no magic lever.
Instead, an administration makes a thousand small decisions, each of which subtly adds to or detracts from a positive growth environment. The Obama administration, which is either hostile to or aloof from business, has made a thousand tax, regulatory and spending decisions that are biased away from growth and biased toward other priorities. American competitiveness has fallen in each of the past four years, according to the World Economic Forum. Medical device makers, for example, are being chased overseas. The economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011. That’s inexcusable.
My administration will be a little more biased toward growth. It’ll treat businesses with more respect. There will be no magic recovery, but gradually the animal spirits will revive. The third big problem is Medicare and rising health care costs, which are bankrupting this country. Let me tell you the brutal truth. Nobody knows how to reduce health care inflation. There are two basic approaches, and we probably have to try both simultaneously.
The first, included in Obamacare, is to have an Independent Payment Advisory Board find efficiencies and impose price controls. The problem is that that leaves the painful cost-cutting decisions in Washington, where Congress rules. Congress wrote provisions in the health care law that have already gutted the power of the advisory board. The current law allows Congress to make “cuts” on paper and then undo them with subsequent legislation. That’s what Congress always does.
The second approach, favored by me, is to scrap the perverse fee-for-service incentives and use a more market-based approach. I think there’s ample evidence that this could work, but, to be honest, some serious health economists disagree.
I’m willing to pursue any experiment, from any political direction, that lowers costs and saves Medicare. Democrats are campaigning as the party that will fight to the death to preserve the Medicare status quo. If they win, the lesson will be: Never Touch Medicare. No Democrat or Republican will dare reform the system, and we will go bankrupt.
At last, I’ve tried to be on the level with you. This president was audacious in 2008, but, as you can see from his negligible agenda, he’s now exhausted. I’m not an inspiring conviction politician, but I’ll try anything to help us succeed. You make the choice.
David Brooks is a columnist for a New York Times whose work is syndicated nationally.