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How Do GOP Candidates Plan To Fix The Economy?


Now, as those candidates hunt for votes, many voters are hunting for answers. They're asking how the Republican candidates propose to fix the economy.

Robert Smith from NPR's Planet Money team has been listening.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: The basic Republican answer to any economic question is so easy it could fit on a Mitt Romney campaign button.

MITT ROMNEY: The answer for America is not to grow government; it is to shrink government.

SMITH: In fact, the guy selling the merchandise outside a Mitt Romney event in Rochester was bummed that he didn't think of it first.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Vote for smaller government.

SMITH: You could sell that button at a Republican primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think I could. I think I could sell it at a Democratic primary.

SMITH: It's true. Cutting government is the new mom and apple pie. And in fact if you compare the Republicans' economic plans, much of it looks Xeroxed. They all want to balance the budget. They all want to cut taxes. Personal taxes, corporate, capital gains. You name it.

At the Romney event, a political science professor from New Jersey, Bruce Caswell, has come to see democracy at work. He says don't pay too much attention to those plans.

BRUCE CASWELL: They believe in the neo-classical free market. There are nuances, but they - no, they're not that different.

SMITH: Ah, but the whole fun of the Republican primary is teasing out the nuances, and each candidate has a twist on how to shrink government. For Jon Huntsman, it's getting rid of all tax deductions. For Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, it's a form of flat tax. Some want to slash the budget fast and deep; some like their cuts slow and selective. But to see the biggest contrast, it helps to spend some time on the trail with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. First Santorum, who always drops in this little fact about where he's from.

RICK SANTORUM: I represented the steel valley of Pittsburgh.

SMITH: And this explains the motivation behind his economic plan. Santorum takes a very targeted approach to cutting taxes. He gives a tax break to the thing he most wants to bring back to his hometown: manufacturing.

SANTORUM: They pay no tax at all. If you make things here in America, you're not going to pay tax, if you're in America.

SMITH: If you provide financial services, say, or export movies, you will still have to pay taxes, although less than you do now. Santorum may believe in smaller government but he's a strong believer in using what remains of government to shape the economy. In fact, he was asked why he didn't give a tax break to factory workers instead of factory owners.

SANTORUM: Putting money directly in someone's pocket is not going to create manufacturing jobs. You got to create an atmosphere for manufacturers to be profitable.

SMITH: Santorum doesn't spend much time talking about the budget cuts necessary to pay for such a tax cut, but the plan does have a hopeful ring that John Knoor loved. He manufactures soups here in New Hampshire under the name What a Crock.

JOHN KNOOR: One of the problems is that manufacturing leaves our country, and if we can bring that back, that's a great start.

SMITH: Some voters really like the specificity of a targeted plan, but for a lot of Republicans, that is the wimpy way out. To see the other end of the Republican economic spectrum, I went north to Lake Winnipesauke. That's where Ron Paul was not very subtle about how much he wants to cut from the budget the very first year.

RON PAUL: We need to cut a trillion dollars if we're serious.

SMITH: Now, I need to pause here for just a second because Paul talks very fast. One trillion dollars. That's around a quarter of the entire U.S. federal budget - 25 percent gone in one year. And Paul is equally serious when he talks about cutting taxes. Remember how Santorum wants to target the tax cuts through manufacturing. Paul rejects that kind of favoritism and wants to just eliminate the whole IRS.

PAUL: We have to let the people spend the money; then we have a much better chance of regaining prosperity.

SMITH: Of all the plans, Paul's is the most dramatic but it's also the hardest to pull off. This does not come as a surprise to anyone who comes to see Ron Paul. His fans understand exactly what it's going to take. Seth Cohn is a computer programmer and a state senator in New Hampshire who has endorsed Ron Paul.

SETH COHN: If you're dependent on government money to make your life comfortable, you're going to feel pain. If you are an American who believes that you can stand on your own two feet, this is going to be a renaissance.

SMITH: And perhaps that should be the fine print on the back of those cut government campaign buttons. This is not going to be quick. This is not going to be easy. The goal now for each of the candidates is to convince New Hampshire voters that it is worth it. Robert Smith, NPR News, Manchester. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.