Monday, November 15, 2010

Scott Brown: He’s tired of the fluff, but where’s the depth?

Scott Brown told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this morning that he’s “tired of the fluff.” He says that, in nine months in Washington, the Senate has only focused for 12 days on jobs and the economy. Agreed, jobs and the economy should be the #1 focus. But, while he decries the fluff, Brown is remarkably short on substance, even if he is long on charm. Check it on in the video.
He’s still skating the surface of issues in his presentations, relying on campaign-type slogans about lowering taxes, cutting spending, making government less intrusive. His approach is three-pronged. He wants to reenergize business by changing the business environment through simplifying regulation, getting rid of waste and fraud, creating more certainty by lowering both the corporate tax (to 0% for new start-ups) and capital gains tax rates. All this, he says, will spur creativity and stimulate jobs.

The reality is much more complex. Just try your hand at some of the trade-offs laid out in the Sunday NY Times.  There are short-term savings to be achieved, some of which can be achieved with an improving economy and increasing revenues. There is a mid-term deficit, brought on by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Medicare prescription drug plan, the Bush tax cuts and the stimulus act. There is the long-term structural deficit we face, which will require facing up to some of the hard choices being laid out by the Simpson Commission. Brown didn’t want to get into any details on that.

He’s still basking in the afterglow of his January success (“Mine was one of the most historic elections in the country.”) He’s still marveling that Scott Brown from Wrentham is in the U.S. Senate. And he’s still in campaign mode, repeating the mantra of cutting taxes, spending and the size of government, all the while getting the audience to smile when he mentions the 214,000 miles he has on his truck. Spare me the truck. Spare me the barn coat. Spare me the campaign slogans.

Tell me what you want to do about global warming, the long-term solvency of Medicare and Social Security, the military budget, including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can’t pay for everything with cuts, so where should we raise taxes? Do we, for example, increase the income on which Social Security taxes are levied? Do we raise the retirement age? Do we reduce the mortgage interest deduction on mortgages above a certain amount or cut the deduction for second homes? Do we reduce the number of troops we have in places like Japan and Germany as an unnecessary vestige of World War II?  How is he sorting out the trade-offs?

Compared to the “take no prisoners” Tea Party cant we hear nationally, his call for bi-partisanship is refreshing. But with Scott Brown it sounds like another facile slogan. The Simpson-Bowles deficit panel is bi-partisan, and already both parties are horrified by some of the choices we face. Today, at least, Senator Brown sidestepped any specifics, rendering his answers not much better than the fluff he so decries.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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