Published October 28. 2012 4:00AM
As he prepares to face the voters' verdict, President Barack Obama can rightly take credit for leading an economic recovery from the most serious economic collapse since the Great Depression. The $831 billion stimulus bill approved soon after the president took office, the middle-class tax cuts, and the auto industry bailout contributed to that turn-around.
While not as robust as anyone would have liked, the recovery has to be measured against the reality that the recession preceding it was the worst in 70 years and that the United States cannot divorce itself from a struggling global economy or the major structural changes buffeting it.
Obtaining a policy victory sought by Democratic presidents since Harry Truman, President Obama, working with a Democratic Congress, achieved approval of the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - which if fully implemented will mean near-universal health care coverage for Americans, using the private insurance industry to provide it.
His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, proposes repealing the health law, but offers no alternative to provide insurance coverage to the 40 million Americans who are always one health crisis away from financial ruin.
President Obama oversaw the winding down of the Iraq War and pursued a military strategy that sets the stage for the reduction of U.S. forces to a support role in Afghanistan by 2014. His military policies have decimated the leadership of the al-Qaida terrorist network and removed its general, Osama bin Laden.
The president has made mistakes, certainly. The stimulus was arguably too small and rolled out too slow. President Obama should have used his political popularity at the time to push for more.
And while Republican opposition to working with the president, and giving him any policy victories, is primarily responsible for stagnation in Washington, the president shares some blame for not working harder to form relationships with Republican legislative leaders.
On balance, however, his presidency has been a successful one considering that President Obama confronted the most difficult economic circumstances of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Most troubling has been the exponential growth of the deficit. In some ways this was unavoidable. Tax revenues plunged during the Great Recession. Stimulus spending was necessary to get the country moving again. But since the "grand bargain" talks with House Speaker John Boehner collapsed the summer of 2011, and with it talk of a combination of tax increases and long-term cuts in entitlements to shave $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years, neither party has talked with seriousness about solutions to address the ticking deficit time bomb.
One of the president's biggest mistakes was walking away from the 2010 recommendations of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Simpson-Bowles commission, which provided clear-eyed suggestions for reducing the deficit with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The president should have codified its broad outlines into specific legislative initiatives, and called the bluff of Republicans, forcing them to get serious about deficit reduction or place their no-tax-increase pledges above the welfare of the country.
Rather than real solutions to either the economic malaise or deficit spending, the president's Republican opponent offers fallacies.
The former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist vows to cut income tax rates 20 percent, while eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center calculates this would reduce tax revenues by $4.8 trillion over 10 years, expanding the deficit.
Mr. Romney contends he will offset lost revenues by eliminating deductions - though he won't say which - but the center calculates zeroing out all itemized deductions would only generate around $2 trillion over a decade.
The very premise of Mr. Romney's plan, that high federal taxes are to blame for slow economic growth, is without foundation. The government collected in taxes 15.4 percent of gross domestic product last year, a historically low number, compared to 20.6 percent of GDP in 2000 when the economy was strong. Then came the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and a government expansion, all without new revenues to pay for them.
In a word, Mr. Romney's tax-cut plan is a fraud. But this should not be surprising from a candidate who has shown a willingness to say anything, and change his stance on any number of policies, to win an election. Most strikingly he seeks to kill a national health care plan, modeled after the plan he signed into law in Massachusetts, for no other reason than political expediency.
As insincere is the Republican candidate's claim he can provide massive tax reductions and then cut his way to fiscal responsibility. Current tax revenues are enough to pay for Medicare and Medicaid, the military, Social Security and the interest on the debt. The nation is effectively borrowing to pay for all other government services. So unless Mr. Romney proposes eliminating all of it, more tax revenues will be necessary.
The better choice
President Obama's policies offer the better chance for progress. He would end the Bush tax cuts for couples making $250,000 or more, or single individuals making over $200,000. While the president has oversold the impact this would have on reducing deficit spending, it is a better option than Mr. Romney's plan to leave this money in the pockets of the wealthiest and give them yet another tax cut.
The president deserves high marks for his Race to the Top education initiative that has led to needed education reforms in states across the country. That effort must continue. America has lost its global lead in education and restoring it will be vital to job creation in the 21st century.
In a second-term the president, free from concerns about re-election and no longer facing a Republican Party intent on stopping his return to office, would be in a better position to make the politically difficult compromises necessary for genuine deficit reduction.
Given the option between a candidate who vacillates and pushes unrealistic policies and an incumbent who fulfilled his major commitments and has governed with a steady hand, the choice is clear. The Day endorses President Barack Obama for re-election.