After two weeks of political conventions, the Obama and Romney campaigns emerged having thoroughly litigated the past four years but left many unanswered questions about how they will fix the economy and other policy questions.
The three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate are an opportunity to further flesh out the two candidates’ positions. Here are some areas that need focus:
For President Barack Obama:
We hoped the president would raise the level of this campaign from its gaffe-of-the-day, attack ad-laden state and talk about what has to be the No. 1 priority of the next administration – how to vastly improve on the tepid economic recovery and return the country to as close to full employment as possible.
“Our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America. But they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right,” Obama said.
Neither did the president. He recited a laundry list of goals and achievements and things he’d stop the Republicans from doing should they regain power. But he didn’t offer a comprehensive economic plan of his own.
There was a hint of what he might want to do.
“And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one,” Obama said.
What does that mean? Obama’s analysis of history is correct. Roosevelt thought the Great Depression was so bad he had to toss as many potential solutions at the wall and see what stuck. The crisis endured throughout two subsequent Roosevelt re-election campaigns.
Does Obama believe another economic stimulus program is necessary? Will he re-introduce his American Jobs Act, which Republicans have obstructed and independent analysts estimated would bring more than a million new jobs? How will he get it passed if he faces a divided or Republican Congress this winter?
For Mitt Romney:
Romney has been similarly vague on his economic plan. He’s offered a broad outline that doesn’t add up. Last week, former President Bill Clinton dissected Romney’s economic framework in a way that was surprisingly thorough for a political speech.
Romney’s plan calls for reducing taxes on all Americans, including lowering the highest tax bracket from 35 percent to 28 percent. He would make up for the lost revenue by closing tax breaks. The problem is he won’t say which ones.
“They’ll have to eliminate so many deductions like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving that middle-class families will se their tax bill go up $2,000 a year while people making over $3 million a year will still get a $250,000 tax cut,” Clinton said, outlining one of the possible scenarios under Romney’s plan.
Home mortgages and charitable giving join investment income as some of the most popular deductions and are among the ones that reduce revenue the most.
On ABC’s “This Week on Sunday,” Romney running mate Paul Ryan answered Clinton, saying he and Romney’s plan wouldn’t eliminate such deductions for the middle class, but they would be eliminated for some wealthy people.
To make people more confident about their arithmetic and clear on how the plan would affect them, Romney and Ryan need to lay out which deductions they would scuttle for which income level.
Clinton also outlined clearer than anyone in the Obama campaign how Romney’s plan to change Medicaid into a block grant to the states would affect middle class people.
Medicaid is thought of a medical program for the poor, but in reality, a lot of middle-class citizens who are retired and in poor health find themselves using Medicaid for nursing homes. It also pays for services to those who have Down syndrome, autism or other disabilities. Romney and Ryan propose slashing spending by one third over 10 years. It’s unclear how they would do that without hurting these people.
These details are too important to be left out by the campaigns until after the election. Debate moderators need to smoke out the candidates on these questions and the campaigns should be prepared to talk more about them.
The State Journal-Register