The billions of dollars have been spent. The campaign noise is nearly over. It’s time to elect our next president.
People support a candidate for many reasons — some of them quite personal. We want our country to be safe, we want it to be successful; we want our country to provide even better opportunities for our children and grandchildren.
While we often divide on partisan issues, and there are many in this campaign, our analysis of whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is the best choice to lead us the next four years comes down to this: Who will do a better job growing the economy and addressing our debt?
That man is President Barack Obama.
Let’s look back four years. While revisionist historians can have a field day analyzing what should have been or could have been, the fact remains that the U.S. economy is in its fourth year of a moderate recovery.
In November 2008, gross domestic product was in a freefall — dropping nearly 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Consumer spending was falling at a rate not seen since the days of malaise in 1980. The economy had shed nearly 1.2 million jobs in the first 10 months of that year alone. Home values were plunging. One in 11 mortgages was delinquent or in foreclosure. The banking industry was on the verge of collapse.
Thanks in part to the American Recovery Act — the stimulus — the economic recovery began in June 2009. Since then the economy has added 3 million more jobs, despite losing nearly 600,000 state and local government jobs. The stock market, another important economic indicator, has more than doubled to above 13,000 after hitting a low of 6,547 in April 2009. The housing market is slowly recovering.
There remains work to do. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, standing at 7.9 percent. Those numbers mask problems like the 40 percent of those out of work that have been in that position for more than six months and those who have stopped looking.
Presidents are like quarterbacks — they get too much credit when the team wins and get too much criticism when the team loses. There are lots of players in national politics. We only elect a few, and we only pick one president.
The next president will be the beneficiary of an economy that already has turned around. It can grow faster, if he can find bipartisan support for a plan that will both spur the economy and address the budget deficit.
Each candidate has a plan. Neither is perfect. Both have some fuzzy math.
But we are troubled by Romney’s plan — written with help from former George W. Bush advisers — that says we can balance the budget with a $5 trillion tax cut while spending $2 trillion more in defense. Without deep cuts to domestic spending or without some sort of revenue increases, the numbers don’t add up. Romney’s campaign website only identifies about $320 billion in savings or cuts.
Obama’s deficit reduction plan includes a combination of budget cuts — including cuts in domestic spending and defense spending — and revenue increases. It is much closer than the Romney plan to the bipartisan recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission. The plan lacks detail about when the budget would be balanced, but promises more than $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade.
We’ve been digging our deficit hole for the past 10 years. We won’t climb out overnight. The chief executives of 80 U.S. corporations recently released a letter that says any fiscal plan must “include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.” The CEOs acknowledge that a combination of spending cuts and tax increases are needed to dig us out of this hole, even if we reform Medicare and Social Security.
We believe Obama’s plan to be closer to reality and closer to his actual track record on spending. Even with the much-maligned stimulus, the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget show that spending under Obama has grown 1.4 percent, compared to 7.7 percent under President George W. Bush.
We need to go further and make sure that spending does not exceed revenues. Obama has reinstated the policy that the government cannot increase spending or cut taxes unless offset by spending cuts or tax increases — a policy abolished under Bush.
This is not about blaming Bush. But Romney’s economic policy relies on some of the same Bush advisers that turned us from surplus to deficit within his first term. We’re also concerned that Romney has turned to the same neoconservative foreign policy advisers — 17 at last count — that under the Bush administration led us into wars that we put on the credit card.
Any discussion of the economy and our deficit also has to acknowledge that we cannot continue to spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care. The Affordable Care Act — one of Obama’s biggest accomplishments — is far from perfect, but it’s a start to reining in those costs. It also is paid for.
Simply repealing the act — as Romney favors — and replacing it with state programs may work but it could also be an expensive step backward at a time when we must move forward. Doing nothing is not an option. We need health care reform that builds on the initiatives of the excellent health care providers in our region and fixes the inequities in federal Medicare reimbursement.
Romney’s record shows he’s more moderate than the campaign that he is running. He clearly has the business and leadership experience to do the job. His selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate was a bold and refreshing choice. But his economic plan relies too much on the policies that contributed to our deficit problem today.
Our next president faces economic challenges. The fiscal cliff looms Dec. 31 as a result of the Budget Control Act last year. Tax cuts are set for expiration. The European debt crisis is still troublesome.
Obama helped us climb out of the ravine of economic ruin four years ago to set our nation’s feet on solid ground. He has earned the chance to take us further down the road to recovery.
Whether we elect Obama or Romney, Americans want solutions. It’s time for the rest of the team — that’s Congress — to get on the same playbook as our quarterback and work together. When that happens, America wins.