Mitt Romney’s broad program of tax cuts seems fanciful at best, but Barack Obama has not done enough to spell out his own economic program. Americans are being asked to choose between an ambitious plan whose numbers don’t appear to add up and a vague, steady-as-she-goes approach, probably not a winning strategy in a country with 7.8-per-cent unemployment (with many long-term unemployed) and a staggering deficit. Mr. Obama cannot continue to blame the economic malaise on his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The presidential debates have been Olympian exercises in intellectual jousting, but not always illuminating in substance. Mr. Romney offers across-the-board tax cuts of 20 per cent. The Republican platform describes these tax cuts as revenue-neutral. But how can that be? Where will the $500-billion a year in lost tax revenue be made up? He promises to cut certain deductions – he hasn’t said which ones – but these would be small by comparison. He appears to believe that the cuts would stimulate enough growth to make up for the loss of revenue. He’s asking Americans to make a huge leap of faith at a time when no end is in sight to the federal deficit. As Mr. Obama said in Tuesday night’s debate, Mr. Romney the successful investor would not accept such lack of clarity.
Mr. Romney was effective, though, in raising questions about whether Mr. Obama is complacent about the slow pace of the economic recovery. “We don’t have to settle for what we’re going through,” Mr. Romney. “We don’t have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don’t have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don’t have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don’t have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job.”
The Democratic platform is about as vague as Mr. Obama himself has been in the debates. Most of the section called “Putting Americans Back to Work” recites what he did in his first term or criticizes Mr. Romney. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s more modest approach is more realistic for a country with a trillion-dollar deficit, but the appearance of passivity at the heart of his economic program may leave voters feeling that he is, as Mr. Romney says, willing to settle for the status quo.
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