Captain of Industry

In May, Mitt Romney, on the verge of officially clinching the Republican presidential nomination, held a rally in Las Vegas.

“I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town,” said the future GOP standard-bearer. “And he said, ‘You know, I’d like to change the Constitution. I’m not sure I can do it. I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’

“You see, then he or she would understand that the policies they’re putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow,” Romney went on. “They’d understand that if they say something negative about Las Vegas it means that businesses and government agencies aren’t going to come here. And that would mean that people who have jobs in hotels will lose those jobs.”

Setting aside Romney’s rather bold move, in the wake of the then-burgeoning General Services Administration conference spending scandal, of criticizing President Obama for at one time having discouraged agencies from holding events in Vegas, his remarks were telling in another way. They emphasized the lengths to which  Romney has gone in this year’s campaign to emphasize his business credentials. In our cover story this month, Kellie Lunney explores that issue and assesses what kind of president Romney might make. 

Romney has a fairly long record of public service, dating from his efforts to salvage the 2002 Winter Olympics to his tenure as Massachusetts governor. He has a track record to run on that includes a series of impressive accomplishments as a government leader. But rather than tout such successes, Romney has put almost all the focus on his business credentials. 

Indeed, when Romney introduced House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate in August, Ryan emphasized that his role was to provide balance to the ticket. He said his “record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Gov. Romney’s executive and private sector success outside Washington.” (Wags pointed out that the constitutional amendment Romney enthusiastically endorsed in May would bar Ryan from the presidency, however, since he doesn’t have a business background.)

Romney and Ryan may tout different types of experience on the campaign trail, but they have a common philosophy. Both are strong advocates for a much smaller federal government and have been among the more vociferous critics of federal employee pay and benefits. In April, Romney pointedly lamented the “unfairness” of what he characterizes as high pay for government workers relative to those in the private sector. A month earlier, Ryan had unveiled a budget plan for fiscal 2013 that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, extend the federal pay freeze through 2015 and increase employee contributions to their retirement plans.

Of course, many Republicans have made a strong case for slashing government and scaling back pay and benefits for federal employees. But Romney and Ryan are the only ones now running to head up the very institution staffed by these workers. That may lead them to political victory, but could make it very difficult them to implement their initiatives as the men in charge of Government Inc.

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