Mitt Romney as President: Can His Day One Plans Work?

PHOTO: Mitt RomneyMary Altaffer/AP Photo
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Washington in this May 23, 2012 photo.

If Mitt Romney is to be believed, his first day as president would be pretty busy. But are his plans realistic?

Romney has made a handful of promises about what he would do on day one of his presidency. He's promised to approve the Keystone pipeline that President Obama stopped, cut taxes and change the tax code, begin the process to end Obama's health care law, lower the deficit, tell China to trade fairly, and remove regulations he says hamper job growth.

But some questions remain — like, how feasible is it that Romney would be able to get everything he wants passed by Congress? Would the Tea Party stand up for its causes early on, and would Democrats work with him? And what can Romney actually do to create jobs, as he's promised?

Beyond that, Romney would still probably face a high unemployment rate, and, like Obama, would have to fight parts of his own party no matter what path he chooses to spur the economy. Fresh off a primary in which he made promises to the far right on cutting spending, ending Obamacare and erasing taxes, the practical path for Romney the Job Creator isn't crystal clear.

And still reeling slightly from a primary in which all of their ad hoc heroes fell by either their own doing or a barrage of super PAC ads, right-wing Republicans are hoping that Romney stands by the promises he made to win their votes.

Unfortunately for them, conventional political strategy advises that candidates fly to the wings of their party during the primary, but pull back toward the middle in a general election to win the "independent" voters who haven't made up their minds yet. So while Romney has pledged to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office, some conservatives are skeptical that the father of universal health care in Massachusetts will be as eager to end the law in January 2013 as he was in January 2012.

Not alleviating their fears is Romney's appointment of former Bush health official Mike Leavitt, who backed the "exchanges" in Obamacare, to lead the transition team that would usher Romney into the White House. The news signaled to the conservative movement that Romney might abandon his commitment to ending the health law.

"The negative spin is that he's said all these things to basically get past a conservative-leaning Republican Party electorate and that he's really the Massachusetts moderate that some of his opponents tried to make him out to be," said Dan Mitchell, a Cato economist who worked on the Senate Finance Committee and on George H.W. Bush's 1988 transition team to the White House.

The flip side, Mitchell said, is that if Romney does stick to his promises to conservatives, they'll be pleased when he gives support to Paul Ryan's budget, takes steps to lower the spending-to-GDP ratio significantly, and offers states flexibility on spending Medicaid money.

The reality is probably somewhere in between.

But members of the Tea Party, Mitchell said, haven't forgotten the moves that George W. Bush made after taking office that turned them off — specifically the bank bailout. They're wary of a similar Republican president, and now they have members in Congress to back them up.

"Is he sincere about what he's been saying all year long?" Mitchell said. "I will be sitting in my office on January 20 with hair-trigger sensitivity, waiting to denounce the first deviation."

Kevin Hassett, an economic adviser to Romney, described job creation as "more than a one-day job," but said it starts with a package that includes three key provisions: lowering the corporate tax rate, lowering the individual tax rate, and putting Social Security on a "sustainable" path.

None of those things creates jobs directly, but the Romney camp's thinking goes that combined, they will create an environment more hospitable to hiring. Lowering tax rates, for example, would lead to an immediate celebration in the markets, which would bolster companies' confidence, Hassett said.

And cutting corporate taxes, he said, would give companies less of a reason to ship jobs to other countries.

"Corporations would then have a much stronger incentive to invest here in the United States, because our corporate rate would be about equal to our OECD competitors," Hassett said, referring to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group that tries to improve economic conditions around the world.

As for intraparty fights, Hassett offered a more optimistic view — that assuming the Senate changes hands along with the White House, Romney would have little trouble executing his plans, and if the Tea Party or Democrats stood in his way, he would find ways to work with them.

History won't soon forget the struggles Obama had, though, trying to pass legislation while the Democrats had commanding control of both houses of Congress. Squabbles with reluctant Democrats resulted in a cheaper-than-desired stimulus, and a health law without a public option.

"He's got a career behind him as a problem solver," Hassett said of Romney. "Look what he did at the Olympics, for goodness's sake."

"Romney's not going to be like Obama," Hassett added, "always whining and making excuses about why he can't solve any of our nations' problems."