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Mitt Romney pitches smaller government: Is his target realistic?

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By the way, why is the 24.3 percent figure so different from the 42 percent one he cited in the debate? The answer is that higher figure is one that includes state and local governments, tallied by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Romney hasn't offered a full plan on how to reach his goal, says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Voters deserve more specifics, she argues, so they can weigh the idea's costs and benefits.

Obama tried to nudge Romney on this point in the debate: "You know, his running mate, Congressman Ryan, put forward a budget that reflects many of the principles that Governor Romney's talked about. And it wasn't very detailed. This seems to be a trend. But ... if you extrapolated how much money we're talking about, you'd look at cutting the education budget by up to 20 percent."

"I'm not going to cut education funding," Romney replied.

What he has specified is a three-pronged strategy on spending cuts: eliminate unneeded programs using a China test (is it so important that the United States would borrow money from China to pay for it?), turn other programs back to the states (with block grants to help them pay, in the case of Medicaid and worker training), and "sharply improve the productivity and efficiency" of government.

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