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Mitt Romney’s Presidential Incentive Pay Plan Apes Saturday Night Live Ross Perot Sketch

In an interview with soon-to-retire conservative radio host Neal Boortz, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was asked if he would refuse his presidential salary if elected, as he did while Governor of Massachusetts. Romney responded that he had no announcement to make, “But I do believe in linking my incentives and my commitment to the accomplishment of specific goals,” a plan which, ThinkProgress points out, was the subject of a 1992 Saturday Night Live Ross Perot sketch.

From CNNMoney:

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was asked Tuesday whether he would accept a salary as president, or refuse compensation in the name of deficit reduction…

“Well I don’t have an announcement for you on that today … But I do believe in linking my incentives and my commitment to the accomplishment of specific goals,” Romney said. “I wish we had that happen throughout government — where people recognized they are not going to get rewarded in substantial ways unless they are able to achieve the objectives that they were elected to carry out.”

The progressive blog ThinkProgress immediately flagged Romney’s plan as an echo of this 1992 SNL sketch featuring Dana Carvey as high-strung billionaire and then-presidential candidate Ross Perot:

If I’m President, we get 0% growth, you don’t pay me nothing. 1% growth? Hell, a chimpanzee could run this country and make 1% growth! So you don’t pay me dime one. Got my own plane, don’t need Air Force One. State Dinners? I’ll pay it, it’s nothing to me, sand on the beach! Now, don’t worry about ol’ Ross Perot, I got $3 billion back at home.

Now, here’s the deal. Here’s what I’m trying to tell you. 3% growth in our economy, $120 billion growth in our GNP – I get a billion dollars. Now, think about it, that’s a bargain! You’re up $119 billion. I’m telling you, 2.99% growth, I don’t see a penny, not one red cent. But don’t feel sorry for me – I got $3 billion. I’m gonna be fine.

Now, this here’s a business proposition. Now, see, 4% growth, you pay me $20 billion. The way I see it, you’re ahead $140 billion, see? Now, this ain’t no golden parachute, this isn’t the President GM giving himself a big bonus when the company’s losing money sending jobs to Mexico. I get my money if and when you get yours.

Now, 5% growth, I get $50 billion. Everybody’s happy, see?

Aside from the SNL connection, which is hilarious, Romney’s remarks will surely have the undesired effect of worsening his image as an out-of-touch rich guy. To be fair, he doesn’t say what his incentives should be, but in order for them to have an impact on a guy like Mitt Romney, they would have to be substantial. Instead of turning the salary down, Romney seems to be trying to grab more money for himself, and by implication, he seems to be saying that he needs financial incentives to do a good job as president, that the responsibility of the office itself is insufficient motivation.

Why, then, would Romney say such a thing? My guess is that he looked past how it would make him look, and was trying to promote ideas that are popular with conservatives, like merit pay for teachers, and avoid an idea that is inconsistent with his party’s policies, the notion of shared sacrifice. By agreeing to give up the salary, Romney would be validating the idea that, as President Obama has said, “at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” and maybe you can afford a 3% tax increase so you don’t have to fire cops, teachers, and firemen.

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