Would Mitt Romney Shrink Government?

When asked by Jay Leno which federal agencies he’d cut, Mitt Romney said:
I’m going to go through it piece by piece, combine — when I was secretary, excuse me, when I was governor of Massachusetts, and we looked at the Secretary of Health and Human Services, we had 15 different agencies.  We said, let’s combine those into three.  We’re not going to get rid of the work that each do, but we’re going to combine the overheads, we’re not going to have as many lawyers and press secretaries and administrators, and that saves money and makes it more efficient.  And I hope to be able to do the same thing in Washington […] We’ll look agency-by-agency and look where the opportunities are best, but I’ll take a lot of what Washington does and send it back to the states.
Byron York characterizes Romney’s answer as “not less gov’t, more efficient gov’t,” and Mark America takes it as an illustration of “why conservatives do not trust Romney”:
Mitt Romney isn’t interested in reducing the reach of government into Americans’ lives, but instead making it more efficient.  That’s part of the message Romney delivered to Jay Leno’s audience on Tuesday evening, and what you need to realize about all of this is that Romney is not a conservative.  He’s a technocrat, and he’s a businessman, but his interest in making various programs and agencies of government more efficient does not make him conservative.  Conservatives realize that to save this nation, we must re-make the government in a smaller, less intrusive, and less-encompassing form.  We need to eliminate programs, bureaus and agencies, and discard their functions.  Romney won’t do any of that, and in fact, he will likely extend their reach.
Of course, nowhere above did Romney actually say he wouldn’t make government smaller, that he “isn’t interested in reducing the reach of government,” or that he’d extend its reach. At most, he gave one example of how he cut government at the state level which offers a general idea of his approach – and while that could be interpreted by those unfavorably predisposed to Romney as meaning he wouldn’t shrink government, you can’t simultaneously read so much into that statement while completely ignoring the part in the very same interview where Romney says he’d also “take a lot of what Washington does and send it back to the states.”
While the blemishes in Romney’s limited-government record are undeniable, let’s not sell him short on that front – Romney’s been against a federal takeover of healthcare since not just 2007, but 1994(!), he’s spoken about getting education back to the states, and as Ann Coulter explained last week, his governorship of Massachusetts was much more conservative than you may have heard from some bloggers:
He cut state spending by $600 million, including reducing his own staff budget by $1.2 million, and hacked the largest government agency, Health and Human Services, down from 13 divisions to four. He did this largely by persuading the Legislature to give him emergency powers his first year in office to cut government programs without their consent.

Although Romney was not able to get any income tax cuts past the Democratic Legislature, he won other tax cuts totaling nearly $400 million, including a one-time capital gains tax rebate and a two-day sales tax holiday for all purchases under $2,500.

He also vetoed more bills than any other governor in Massachusetts history, before or since. He vetoed bills concerning access to birth control, more spending on state zoos, and the creation of an Asian-American commission — all of which were reversed by the Legislature.

As Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said, “What else could he do?” 

Maybe a President Romney would capitulate to big government. But what he told Jay Leno isn’t evidence of that.
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