lighthouse_night.jpg

Get The Weekly Bancroft & Annual Newsletter delivered straight to your inbox!



Republicans offer little that's new, much that's objectionable

Republicans in Congress have released a new manifesto called "A Pledge to America" promising that, if elected, they will focus on two things: creating jobs and making government smaller.

In short, there is little that is new about the Republican approach and much with which to take issue.

At the risk of oversimplification, the plan would propose to create jobs by not allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for those with incomes over $200,000 and by paring down government.

Economists, including several conservative economists, have assessed their proposals and have unfortunately concluded that this grand plan would allow our current deficit to grow. The growing deficit is of course just what Republican leadership has been hammering President Obama for.

The notion of letting the Bush tax cuts to expire for the highest 2 percent of wage earners (as Obama has already said he will keep the tax cuts in place for all but the highest wage earners) would lead to jobs growth is based on the assumption that this group encompasses many small-business owners.

By not raising taxes for this group, the logic goes, they will have incentive to create jobs. I say, not so fast.

First, as a former small-business owner, I can attest that very few of this group earn more than $200,000 a year – the actual number has been estimated at 3 percent.

Second, my experience as a small-business owner would lead me, when faced with a tax increase, to redouble my efforts to grow the business so that I could make more money to at least offset the increased taxes.

Honestly, most small-business owners would have little sense of the impact of a tax increase.

The second part of their manifesto is to make government smaller. This is a laudable goal – certainly one that I can support. The question is what are they prepared to do?

To have a significant impact on the size of government, the Republicans need to tackle the big spending programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense.

The Republican manifesto deftly suggests more close review for these programs, but no specific approaches to reduce costs.

Certainly, House Republicans did nothing to address these issues during the George W. Bush administration. What is different now?

The main difference is that tea party activists have heightened the awareness of "big government" and deficit spending – sending Republicans in Washington scurrying to cover their tracks.

Why all the hype about the tea party? Polls suggest that those identifying with the tea party are no more than 30 percent of the Republican Party. The tea party-supported candidates who have been successful in Republican primaries have generally benefited from low turnout.

In the case of Maine's Republican primary for governor, the triumph of tea partier Paul LePage was a surprise. In a crowded seven-person race, LePage got 37 percent of the vote, or about 49,000 votes. In a typical general election in a nonpresidential year approximately 500,000 Mainers will vote.

Polls suggest that the gubernatorial contest will be a three-way race between LePage, Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler. In a similar three way contest in 1994 independent Angus King won with 181,000 votes (35.4 percent) to Democrat Joe Brennan's 173,00 (33.8 percent). Republican Susan Collins was the big loser with only 118,000 votes (23 percent).

This year's gubernatorial race is likely to be similar. The winner will need about 180,000 votes.

Moreover, the winning candidate will need to draw significantly from the group of independents that are not registered in either party and who make up the largest single block of voters in Maine.

Given LePage's narrow right-wing base, the big question is whether he can get another 130,000 or so Mainers to vote for him to add to those who voted for him in the primary.

In spite of the fact that the latest polls show him leading, my guess is that once Maine citizens start paying attention to LePage, they will conclude that he is indeed a fringe candidate, long on tea party rhetoric and short on facts and concrete proposals.

The likely outcome for LePage will mirror the outcomes for many tea party candidates. Nationally, Republicans may indeed regain control of the House, but my gut tells me that tea party candidates will not live up to their current hype.

Should the Republicans gain control of the House, we know where their manifesto is taking them – and that path is unlikely to do much either to improve the economy or reduce the deficit.