Does Mitt Romney understand this?
The worry stems from Romney’s ill-advised statement this week. He said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” That raises doubts as to whether he understands the Reagan-Kemp model. Perhaps he does. But he will have to tell us more.
Incidentally, the safety net has been expanding at an alarming pace. Transfer-program spending has been soaring. It’s up $600 billion, or about 35 percent, in the last three years. Medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment insurance have seen benefit levels rise and eligibility expand. This is a huge drag on the economy. We are paying too much to not work, and rewarding too little to work.
Welfarism is not compassionate. Opportunity is.
But now it’s up to Romney to propose moving the very poor out of the poverty trap by making it pay more after tax to work rather than not work. And he must persuade the electorate with a clear and detailed prescriptive agenda.
Part of the solution is tax reform, especially getting rid of the 10 percent bottom tax rate. Another part of the solution is education reform: Revive real choice and competition; spread merit pay and performance to judge the schools; and insist on high-school diplomas or associate degrees or streamlined training programs to bring the unemployed into the high tech age.
In his Florida victory speech, Romney said, “If this election is a bidding war for who can promise more benefits, then I’m not your president.” Good. But he must build on that. He has to make it clear that when the unemployed return to work they will not face huge marginal tax rates. In other words, there must be an incentive to leave government dependency and move into the productive economy.
That’s why a bold tax-reform plan is so important. The unemployed face a 10 percent bottom tax rate. But the middle class faces 25, 28, and 33 percent tax rates. That’s way too much. Why not flatten the code to just two rates, say 15 and 25 percent, and then simplify by getting rid of the other brackets and wiping out the unnecessary deductions, credits, and carve-outs?
Such tax reform will not only provide growth incentives, it will provide anti-poverty incentives as well. Job creation for everyone.