POLITICS

To Mitt Romney, big government is good for business

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Mitt Romney has the strongest business backing of any Republican presidential hopeful, and he carries himself as a technocratic problem solver. Romney believes these are advantages. But the GOP primary electorate, still angry about Bush's bailouts and Obama's costly grand plans, likely has no appetite for this sort of consultant-in-chief.

Examine Romney's dalliances with big government that have caused him such grief, and you'll see a trend: They all are described as "pro-business," they all amount to corporate welfare, and they all reflect the technocratic mind-set you'd expect of a business consultant. Romney's record and rhetoric show how managerialism veers away from the free market and into corporatism.

Begin with health care. Romney last week defended his Obamacare prototype in Massachusetts by pointing to the findings of a think tank that was "funded by business." In a similar vein, the Boston Globe attacked Romneycare's critics in an April editorial: "if they weren't hyperventilating about the national law, they might come to recognize that the role Romney played on the state level was skillful, creative, and business-friendly."

Yes, the legislation was business-friendly -- in a big-government way: It required individuals to buy health insurance, and it provided taxpayer subsidies for health insurance, helping insurers and employers at the expense of taxpayers and patients.

At the University of Michigan, Romney also spoke of his efforts to lure business to Massachusetts, pointing to a billboard he put up in California that bragged of his state's relatively lower taxes -- presumably relative to California.

Romney didn't compete for business through lower taxes and regulation: He tried to entice them to the state with special subsidies. In 2005, Romney lured Spherics, a pharmaceutical company, away from Rhode Island by offering a $2.5 million direct loan from the state's "Emerging Technology Fund." That same year, he signed a bill creating the Massachusetts Film Office that was empowered to hand out special tax credits to studios filming movies in the Bay State.

Romney's corporatism isn't limited to the state level. In his 2010 book "No Apology," he lays out a national energy plan including more federal funding for energy research and supporting subsidies for "infant industries." He has supported that favorite of Iowa caucus-voters, ethanol subsidies.

During the 2008 race, Romney, according to the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, "pledged support" to a national catastrophic insurance fund. In other words, he wanted taxpayers nationwide to subsidize the property insurance of Florida. Of course, the insurers loved this one.

Then there was the pinnacle of big government-big business collusion, the Great Wall Street Bailout of 2008. Romney supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and still does today. Given the program's unpopularity, he tries to inoculate himself a bit by criticizing Tim Geithner's administration of TARP.

It's the same line John Kerry gave regarding his vote for the Iraq War: The war was good, the dummies in charge just did it wrong. This is standard fare from technocrats. When their top-down plans go awry, they blame the implementation. When perfectly predictable problems arise -- cronyism and mission creep in the case of TARP -- those who supported the idea wash their hands.

But the problem with Romney isn't just that his technocratic managerial style led him to central-planning, big-government solutions; it's also that those big-government solutions always involve big-business profiting.

It makes sense when you think about the man. Romney's belief that government can steer the economy doesn't come from a left-wing disdain for business. Romney's political managerialism is an extrapolation of his success at Bain Consulting and a hedge fund that grew out of that. He believes that if people are smart enough, work hard enough, and have the right intentions, they can solve the nation's problems. But he also grasps the power and efficiency of the profit motive.

Romney's willingness to subsidize business has likely helped his fundraising. The Washington Post reported last week: "The list of donors at Romney's first presidential fundraiser, held April 12 at the Harvard Club of New York City, reads like a who's who of the Wall Street elite, including Goldman Sachs bankers and independent financiers."

Romney will win over many of the GOP's moneymen, and plenty of independent donors, too. But on the grass-roots level, his corporatism will hurt.

The Wall Street bailout was a major catalyst of the Tea Party movement, which will be a powerful force in the GOP primaries. The Tea Party distrusts concentrations of power in both government and business. Romney represents both.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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