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Romney will 're-introduce' policy plans to voters this fall

 

Voters and reporters looking to Mitt Romney for new jobs proposals or additional details about his existing plans shouldn't expect many, the presumptive Republican nominee's aides said Thursday.

Most of Romney's fall campaign will involve "re-introducing a lot of the policy that came out a year ago," Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on a conference call with reporters. The reason for that, he explained, was to remind them "of the governor's very detailed policy" now that voters are playing closer attention to the campaign.

The conference call was organized to outline the jobs policies about which Romney will speak today in Colorado. But the five priorities mentioned on the conference call -- energy, trade, education, cutting the deficit, and freeing up businesses from regulation -- have generally been staples of the former Massachusetts governor's campaign for much of the past year.

Kacper Pempel / REUTERS

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks at the University of Warsaw Library in Warsaw July 31, 2012.

The question of specifics, though, has been one that has plagued the Romney campaign -- and it's not only Democrats who have voiced this criticism.

"The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it's Mr. Obama's fault," the Wall Street Journal's right-leaning editorial board wrote in early July. "Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President's policies aren't working and how Mr. Romney's policies will do better."

But the Romney campaign has generally brushed off these complaints as imprudent politics. Boston has clearly broadcast that they are satisfied with the plans they have offered. ("He doesn’t need to lay out new policies," Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a surrogate of Romney's and potential running mate, told National Review Online earlier this week.)

The Romney campaign has been generally opaque in its approach to several issues that could conceivably expose their candidate to scrutiny, which could distract from their central narrative about Obama and the economy. For instance, the campaign's refusal to detail which tax deductions Romney would favor eliminating – to show how he’d prefer to balance the budget – mirrors his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns, to detail his exit from Bain Capital, or to lay out how his administration would be more transparent than Obama’s.

On each question, though, the Romney campaign has left open a void of detail, and the Obama campaign and Democrats have gladly stepped in to fill it.

The president himself trumpeted a report from the nonpartisan, independent Tax Policy Center about Romney's tax plan.
The study concluded that, based on the available details about Romney's plan, that it would threaten a higher tax burden on the middle class, because it disproportionately takes advantage of exemptions that would be eliminated to finance tax reform.

But the enduring story of the Romney campaign is its conclusion early in the campaign that little else will matter on election day aside from voters' conclusion about Obama's handling of the economy. They've bet that the broad contours of Romney's policy contours will be enough to sway voters, and that they can weather criticism about the specifics without any of that becoming fatal.

"That report you referenced is a joke," Fehrnstrom said of the center’s report on the call. "There are serious problems with the authorship of that study, and the methodology."

One of the authors was an economic adviser member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. But the other was the senior staff economist on President George H.W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

"The governor's plan essentially lays out the parameters that he wants to achieve," Jonathan Burks, the Romney campaign's deputy policy director, said on the call. "And within that, he would write a tax bill that achieves those goals. And so it's not a question of today, you know, we've got a 2,000-page tax plan that could be scored and demonstrated ... The details of how that would be accomplished would have to be worked out with Congress."

Republicans are quick to note that President Obama has offered few detailed proposals for his second term, and argue that the "American Jobs Act" first introduced by the White House last fall is only a re-hash of old policies.

But the Romney campaign's bet that it doesn't need to offer more detail opens the door to the Obama campaign and Democrats' efforts to turn the election into a choice between the president and Romney, even if it involves mischaracterizing elements of Romney's background – or inserting policy details that don’t exist -- that the GOP candidate won't define for himself.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made an especially specious claim in that vein when he told the Huffington Post this week that a Bain investor -- who he did not name -- told him that Romney had paid no effective tax rate for a decade.

Fehrnstrom angrily condemned that suggestion during an appearance Thursday on Fox News, but there are no indications that the evidence Romney could offer to rebuff those charges will be publicly available anytime soon.

NBC's Jay Rankin and Garrett Haake contributed.