Mitt Romney vows change on Day One; it’s not that easy

McClatchy NewspapersJune 1, 2012 

— Mitt Romney vows that on Day One of his presidency, things would be dramatically different. History and the ways of Washington suggest that by Day Two, he’d find he couldn’t move as fast as he promised.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s latest guarantee was featured in a new television ad Friday, the third in a campaign pledging a new direction for the country immediately on Inauguration Day 2013, if Romney is sworn in that day to replace a defeated President Barack Obama.

It’s not that easy.

"It’s rhetorical only," said Robert Bixby, a veteran Washington player and executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget group, about the promise of the first day. "It takes time to make serious change."

"Not much," said Tim Blessing, an expert on presidential performance at Alvernia University in Pennsylvania, when asked how much Romney could accomplish on Day One.

In his first television ad of the general election campaign, which ran beginning May 18 in swing states including North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, Romney promised he’d start working on tax cuts, changes in federal health care laws and approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"Day One,” said another ad, “President Romney announces deficit reductions, ending the Obama era of big government, helping secure our kids’ futures.”

“What will be different about a Romney presidency?” asked the newest ad Friday. "From Day One, President Romney focuses on the economy and the deficit, unleashes America’s energy resources, and stands up to China on trade. President Romney’s leadership puts jobs first.”

He could approve the pipeline that Romney says would create "thousands of jobs that Obama blocked."

Obama turned down the application for the Keystone XL pipeline, saying he did not have enough time to consider the matter because of a congressional deadline to act. The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main lobbying group, as well as congressional Republicans and some Democrats, maintain the pipeline will provide America with jobs and energy security. Opponents say it would help expand Canada’s tar sands production and yield higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Romney also plans to send legislation to Congress containing tax proposals and an immediate 5 percent cut in non-security discretionary spending, which includes programs such as education and transportation.

But those plans, like others in his Day One agenda, face obstacles every modern president has endured.

First, he’s probably not going to have a lot of top staff in place. Cabinet secretaries and key trade and economic officials will need Senate confirmation. The campaign maintains it can take some action without all staff in place, such as designating a country as a currency manipulator.

Second, regulations and laws often can’t be eradicated overnight. Repealing the 2010 health care law, for instance, would require an act of Congress.

Romney has said he would issue an order "paving the way" for the government to issue state waivers to allow states to "innovate and design health care systems that work best for them."

Complete repeal would be considerably tougher. Republicans now control the House of Representatives, and if they retain their majority, repeal could come on that first day, if not sooner. But any such effort would need 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a likely Democratic filibuster.

Third, while Romney can offer a detailed budget and tax plan on Day One, it often takes weeks if not months to get legislation through Congress.

Obama waited about a month for the Democratic-controlled Congress to approve his economic stimulus package in 2009. President George W. Bush’s major tax cut package was enacted in late May, and Ronald Reagan needed until early August to win approval of his signature 25 percent three-year tax cut.

Obama was elected in 2009 on a similar promise of dramatic change. On Day One, he held a signing ceremony and signed executive orders that included placing restrictions on lobbyists and pledging transparency in government.

A day later, he signed an executive order to close the detention facility for suspected terrorists at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The realities of governing, however, proved more complicated.

The administration met vociferous opposition in Congress to its Guantanamo plan. The detention facility remains open.

The administration also pulled back on the restriction aimed at closing what Obama called a “revolving door” of lobbyist influence in government. The executive order he signed included a waiver, which the administration soon employed to secure the appointment of a deputy defense secretary.

White House officials, however, say that only three ethics waivers were granted and that the administration has not granted a single waiver to allow a former employee to lobby the executive branch.

The National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute, hailed Obama’s transparency pledge as the “earliest and most emphatic” call for open government. It included lifting Bush-era restrictions on the release of presidential records.

The group has since criticized the Justice Department for engaging in “selective and abusive prosecutions of espionage laws against whistleblowers.”

Obama on his first day also held a promised meeting with military officials to plan the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq within 16 months. The last troops left in mid-December 2011.

email: dlightman@mcclatchydc.com, lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @davidlightman, @lesleyclark

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