Romney slams Obama’s approach as 'trickle-down government'

Charlie Neibergall/AP

The role of government featured prominently throughout the first presidential debate on Wednesday night, but the candidates did not offer specific ideas on how to manage the federal bureaucracy more effectively.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney again mentioned that, if elected, he would reduce the federal workforce through attrition and reorganize departments and eliminate programs that don’t achieve results to make government more efficient. He also specifically mentioned the military a few times throughout the 90-minute debate, saying: “I don’t believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of our military.”

Moderator Jim Lehrer of the PBS Newshour specifically asked President Obama and Romney about their philosophy of government, which yielded a 10-minute riff on the topic. “The first role of government is to keep people safe,” said Obama, adding, “The [federal] government has the opportunity…to free up ladders of opportunity where people can succeed.”

Romney said the role of government is to “promote and protect the principles” of documents like the Constitution; he also used the phrase “trickle-down government” to characterize the president’s approach to policy.

But neither candidate was specific about how they would make government more efficient or effective. Instead, most of the debate regarding the role of government focused on policy issues, primarily education and health care. “The right answer is not having the federal government take over health care,” Romney said during a discussion of the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, Obama’s signature domestic achievement to date.

The two candidates also sparred over the role of government in education. “The federal government can play an important role in education,” Romney said. “The federal government can get local and state schools to do a better job.” He emphasized, however, the greater role state governments should play in deciding policy, particularly in education and health care.

During the discussion about education, Obama articulated his own vision of the role the federal government should take: “This is where budgets matter because budgets reflect choices.”

Lehrer also asked the candidates how they would deal with a gridlocked Congress that has left federal agencies paralyzed. Obama and Romney said they have a record of working with both parties on issues, and would continue to do so as commander-in-chief. But neither offered a substantive response as to how they would change the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.