A Bus Tour About... What, Exactly?

This coming weekend the Romney campaign will embark upon a bus tour of various swing states, a tour they've straightforwardly christened: “The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class.” The tour coincides with the campaign's release of said “plan,” a one-page document that lays out five avenues to “more jobs and more take-home pay.” Already some news outlets are reporting on the bus tour and how it fits into the broader economic themes of the presidential race, but what we're not seeing is any real acknowledgement that Romney's “plan for a stronger middle class” isn't actually a “plan.”

Yesterday, CBSNews.com reported on how Romney is looking for “the limelight” on the bus tour, which “allows a candidate to combine old-school, grassroots campaigning with a themed message that can capture the attention of the national media and thus, a national audience.” On Wednesday, the New York Times presented the bus tour as part of Romney's strategy to exploit economic discontent and push back against Obama campaign criticisms that he is out of touch.

OK, so Romney's using his “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” to woo middle class voters -- what exactly is that plan? Not much, it turns out. 

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote on Monday about the “policy gap” between Romney and President Obama: “Obama has proposed policies. Mitt Romney hasn't.” As Klein put it:

Romney's offerings are more like simulacra of policy proposals. They look, from far away, like policy proposals. They exist on his Web site, under the heading of “Issues,” with subheads like “Tax” and “Health care.” But read closely, they are not policy proposals. They do not include the details necessary to judge Romney's policy ideas. In many cases, they don't contain any details at all.

The “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” falls squarely within this framework. Klein's colleague Greg Sargent tried to assess the impact Romney's “plan” would have on the economy by running it past Moody's economist Mark Hopkins, but was unable to because it studiously avoids all detail:

Mark Hopkins at Moody's Analytics tells me that it is mostly a set of assertions about outcomes Romney wants, rather than a set of policies on how to achieve them.

“There aren't enough specifics here to evaluate the plan,” Hopkins said "It's not clear in most cases what specific policies underlie the assertions of outcomes he wants.

What's more, when Sargent put the Romney campaign's claim that the plan would create 12 million jobs to the same test, the results were underwhelming, given that “the economy is already set to add 12 million jobs in the next four years, provided a series of policy outcomes take place, such as a long term deficit deal that includes tax hikes on the rich and cuts to entitlements.” [emphasis in original]

And we haven't even touched on the specific issue of taxes yet. The Romney “plan” calls for reducing “taxes on job creation through individual and corporate tax reform.” That's a summation of his tax proposal calling for 20 percent cuts across all income levels after making the Bush tax cuts permanent, with assurances that the removal and reduction of (unnamed) tax deductions and credits would make the whole thing revenue-neutral.

The Tax Policy Center tried to game out a scenario in which such a promise could be kept, but couldn't, concluding that the only way to pay for Romney's income tax cuts for the wealthy would be to significantly increase the tax burden on the middle class. FactCheck.org arrived at the same conclusion: “So Romney has failed to produce evidence that what he promises is possible. And we judge that the weight of evidence and expert opinion is clear -- it's not possible.”

That's what we know about the Romney “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class,” and if journalists are going to report on the bus tour named after it, they should also be reporting what it actually is and what it holds in store for the middle class.