Is there any impulse greater in politics than to promise people the sun and the moon?
Each in their own way, the Republican candidates heading into Super Tuesday primaries are telling Americans they can have “it all” — plentiful energy without pain at the pump, jobs without deeper debt, thriving factories like the days of yore, a renaissance at every dusty turn.
Call it the can-do spirit or, as Barack Obama liked to put it, “Yes we can.”
No independent economist believes manufacturing will come rushing back against the global economic tide if the government merely backs off on taxes and regulations. The vastly complex energy market is not a Norman Rockwell painting that a president can create with brush strokes. Taps on a cold calculator tell a different story than the rosy accounts of balanced budgets just ahead.
In promising to unleash an energy production boom leading America to the promised land of cheap fuel, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (who promises a moon colony) routinely ignore that the nation is already experiencing such a boom — apparently without making a dime’s worth of difference at the gas station.
Energy has become a prime source of contortions and distortions in the campaign as Republicans hold out false hopes to pressed consumers and Obama takes too much credit for developments that are beyond any president’s influence. But there are other sources of have-it-all promises, too.
A look at some of those promises and how they stack up against the facts:
ROMNEY: “I’m going to deliver on more jobs, less debt, and smaller government. … He (Obama) raised the national debt. I will cut, cap, and balance the budget. He passed Obamacare. I’ll repeal it. He lost our AAA credit rating; I’ll restore it.”
THE FACTS: Romney’s tax-cut and spending plans fall far short of balancing the budget or making much of a dent, if any, in the national debt, now more than $15 trillion, according to independent analyses of the plan. He can cut taxes. He can cut debt. It’s unlikely he can do both.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget finds that his plans probably would add significantly to deficits for the coming decade, deepening the debt by some $250 billion under a middle-of-the-road scenario or by as much as $2.15 trillion in the worst case. The group found a best-case scenario that could see the debt decline by as much as $2.25 trillion but considered that improbable.
The group forecast even worse deficit results from the plans of Gingrich and Santorum. Only Ron Paul would seriously reduce the flow of red ink, through wrenching budget cuts that would dismantle much of the government and are far beyond anything the other candidates would do.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said Romney’s plan would reduce federal tax revenues by 16 percent in 2015 and increase the debt in that time.
In blaming Obama for having “lost our AAA credit rating,” Romney was referring to the Standard & Poor’s one-notch downgrade after Congress balked on Obama’s push to raise the nation’s borrowing authority and avoid default. The rating agency said the eventual deal with lawmakers did not do enough to stabilize the debt path and cited “the difficulties of bridging the gap between the political parties.” That was a pox on both their houses, not just the White House.
SANTORUM: On the decline of the manufacturing work force: “That’s just inexcusable — all of it because government regulation and government taxation…. The average manufacturing job in America pays $20,000 more a year than the average job in America. We can get those jobs back.”
THE FACTS: Santorum’s assertion that rules and taxes are solely to blame for closed factories flies in the face of America’s decades-long transformation to a new economy and global forces anchoring the production of consumer goods in low-wage economies. Remaining manufacturing jobs pay better than usual because low-wage manufacturing jobs have largely fled and are out of the equation.
Building airplanes for Boeing, tractors for Caterpillar and big machinery and equipment for overseas customers is a higher-value enterprise than turning out the toys and consumer electronics now made in Asia.
The U.S. remains a manufacturing powerhouse, and expanding that is a goal of both parties. But a revival of 20th century blue-collar America, flush with steady jobs from hard work, limited skills and numbing assembly-line repetition, is improbable — and for the most part undesirable — in the minds of economists on the left and right. They see Santorum, and to some extent Obama, tapping a nostalgic vein with their visions of manufacturing renewal.
In 2008, John McCain got in hot water on his way to the GOP presidential nomination — from primary rival Romney, actually — for speaking what most economists believe is the harder truth, that the manufacturing jobs of old are gone forever.
GINGRICH: “The duty of the president is to find a way to manage the federal government so the primary pain is on changing the bureaucracy. On theft alone, we could save $100 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare if the federal government were competent. That’s a trillion dollars over 10 years. And the only people in pain would be crooks.”
THE FACTS: A sober look at the books shows leaders from both parties that painful choices must be made in entitlements. Medicare and Medicaid are running into trouble mainly because of an aging population, the cost of high-tech medicine and budget woes. The number-crunchers say solving health care fraud alone is not enough. Health care fraud investigations are already a big source of recovered money, surpassing fines and penalties collected for defense contracting fraud.
OBAMA: “After three decades of inaction, we’re gradually putting in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history for our cars and pickups. That means the cars you build will average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade — almost double what they get today. That means folks, every time they fill up, they’re going to be saving money. They’ll have to fill up every two weeks instead of every week. That saves the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time. That means we’ll cut our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day.”
THE FACTS: Raising mileage standards is not pain-free, and Obama spoke about the benefits while excluding the costs. Compliance will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a car.
The standards are going up in two stages. The second and most ambitious stage is expected to cost the auto industry more than $150 billion, raise the cost of the average new vehicle by $2,000, then save drivers up to $4,400 in gas over the life of the vehicle. Obama’s estimate of $8,000 in savings refers to the substantial break in fuel purchases from both increases in mileage standards, but excludes the higher costs of buying the vehicle in the first place.
SANTORUM: “We can drive down prices, decrease our dependency on foreign oil. We can do it all, but we have a president who says no. We have a president who, when the opportunity to open up federal lands for mining and oil and gas drilling, says no. We have a president who’s — we have an opportunity to open up offshore, he says no. Deepwater, he says no. Alaska, he says no. Build a pipeline, he says no.”
GINGRICH: “It comes down to a simple idea: What if we had a program that enabled the American people to develop so much new energy that we were, in fact, no longer reliant on Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran?” in a campaign ad on energy.
ROMNEY: “He’s going to talk about how he’s responsible for the increasing production of oil in this country, oil and gas in this country. Is he responsible for the increase? No, I didn’t think so.” — About Obama.
THE FACTS: The reams of statistics on energy development are at odds with Republican depictions of Obama as the “President No” of energy.
The U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003. More gas has been produced in each of Obama’s three years in office than at any time since 1936. Coal mining is on the rebound. The radioactive ore that fuels nuclear power plants has come out of the ground faster every year in his presidency. Production from renewables, such as hydroelectric power, solar, wind and biofuels, is higher than ever before. Active U.S. oil rigs increased 22.5 percent last year and the oil and gas extraction industry added 25,000 jobs, up 12 percent.
As Romney suggested, though, Obama is not responsible for much if not most of the fossil-fuel revival because the industry determines what makes financial sense to do and many new wells were planned before he became president.
The case can be made that Obama has not done enough — or from an environmental viewpoint, that he has done too much. But the record shows growth in every sector.
Still, he’s drawn some lines that Republicans want erased. He is against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has put off drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and temporarily blocked the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Santorum’s claim that the U.S. could “do it all” and Gingrich, in holding out the prospect of $2.50 a gallon a gas if he becomes president, shortchange the forces that shape the energy picture beyond a president’s influence. Among them: a bitter winter in Europe that drove up demand and for oil and its price, growing demand in developing countries and political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa hindering supplies over the last year.
The U.S. gets no oil from Iran, despite Gingrich’s suggestion otherwise, and only 13 percent of its oil comes from Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Eliminating dependence on imports would require both a huge increase in domestic production and reduced demand, but Gingrich opposes fuel efficiency standards that are known to reduce the need for oil.
And no one in the have-it-all campaign is about to ask Americans to do without.
Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello, Tom Raum and Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.
(c) Copyright 2012 The Associated Press