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Editorial: Our Romney problem

Former Gov. Mitt Romney did little during Tuesday’s debate to answer persistent concerns about positions he has taken in the past or the direction in which he would guide the country if elected president.

While we have taken President Obama to task in the past for some of his economic and foreign policy decisions, the debate offered several examples of Romney’s deeper problems with consistency and truth.

: Romney discussed the charge that he favored letting the Detroit car companies go bankrupt, risking the possible loss of 1 million jobs. Romney has said that he supported a managed bankruptcy, implying that the companies would have emerged leaner and stronger and healthier — all without any infusion of federal funds. But without that money, the companies would not have survived the process, given the near-collapse of the financial system at that time. Try as he might to obscure the fact, Romney opposed the federal bailout that proved a linchpin of Detroit’s survival.

: Romney said that he supports the access of all women to contraception. But he did not mention that he has supported the Blunt amendment, a defeated measure that would have allowed employers to opt out of covering contraception in their health insurance plans if they object to such coverage on religious grounds. Romney supports access to contraception — but not for women whose insurance plans exclude the coverage and who may not be able to easily afford footing the bill themselves.

: Romney isn’t the first politician who has tried to score points by talking tough about what he’ll do on his first day in the Oval Office. On Tuesday, Romney added to his previous pledge to repeal Obamacare on Day One with a pronouncement to call the Chinese government out on currency manipulation. That might please his supporters, but Romney’s pledge is more bluster than management and could pick a fight that the U.S. economic system might not win. The notion that a Day One pronouncement directed at China’s leaders — with whom the Obama administration has been negotiating on this issue and making some progress — suggests a candidate not yet ready for the world stage.

e_SBlt: Romney said of this long-delayed legislative goal that he would “get it done. First year.” It’s certainly true that Obama didn’t fulfill his 2008 pledge to tackle immigration reform during his first year. But he has said reform should include finding a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It’s still unclear what Romney supports. He has said he opposes “amnesty” for those 12 million people and in the Republican primary spoke of “self-deportation.” But he has offered few specifics.

: Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, have been asked repeatedly about eliminating some tax deductions — a step many economists say Romney would have to take in order to reconcile his tax cuts with an exploding federal deficit. On Tuesday, Romney mostly sidestepped the issue, except to say that maybe he would set a limit for deductions and credits, say $25,000, “and you can decide which ones to use.” In an earlier interview, he suggested a $17,000 cap.

Either one is still a woefully insufficient answer. As a recent Boston Globe analysis noted, Romney’s proposal can’t even be evaluated seriously until he settles on the amount for a cap and fleshes out some details. It may make sense in Congress to allow one’s allies to bring ideas to the table. But Romney cannot expect American voters to trust a smile on a $5 trillion question.

: Romney said he has the know-how to revive the economy and boost employment: “I know what it takes to create jobs. ... That’s why I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years.”

However, as the Washington Post’s fact checkers and others have pointed out, economic forecasters such as Moody’s Analytics and Macroeconomic Advisors have projected about that level of growth “regardless of who is president.”

In other words, as the Post wrote, “this is a fairly safe bet by Romney, even if he has a somewhat fuzzy plan for action.”

The third and final presidential debate, slated for Monday, will focus on foreign policy. On domestic issues, then, it’s unlikely that Romney will make a clearer case for his credentials than he already has. With the Nov. 6 election less than three weeks away, he seems to be betting that a dizzying swing back to the political middle — and his refusal to offer much of substance — will be enough to carry the day.

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