If an election is primarily a referendum on the incumbent, Barack Obama does not deserve to be reelected this November.
When he came to office, the Democrat promised to transcend the traditional party divides to cut the federal budget deficit in half and revitalize the nation’s economy.
Four years later, none of those promises have been met. The political culture in Washington is more toxic than ever.
Much of the blame is usually laid on the “intransigence” of Republicans who, pressured by the conservative Tea Party movement, have supposedly moved so far to the right that it has become impossible to do a deal with them. But when House speaker John Boehner last year agreed to $800 billion in revenue increases over the next ten years — despite Republicans’ pledge not to raise taxes — it was the president who gutted the possibility of a grand bargain by demanding an additional $400 billion in revenue at the last minute, something Boehner felt couldn’t get his conference to accept.
The president’s insensitiveness to Republican concerns may explain his inability to forge compromise with the other party. What is often ignored is that the Democrats under his leadership have become openly protective of big government and sometimes dismissive of free enterprise in ways they haven’t been since before the Bill Clinton years. Both parties are now more attuned to their fringes.
Obama doesn’t seem likely to bring his party to the middle again in order to find common ground with Republicans who will likely retain their majority in the House of Representatives after next week’s election.
Contrast that with Mitt Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts, one of the most left-wing states in the country, where he successfully worked with a Democratic legislature to balance the budget in the last two fiscal years of his governorship through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
Romney has promised not to raise taxes as president, but, if elected, he will likely to have to work with a Democratic majority in the Senate. Unlike the president, he has a record of bipartisanship and pragmatism which suggests that he may be able to put together a comprehensive budget agreement that puts the United States on a sounder fiscal trajectory.
The need for such reform is pressing. Barack Obama grew federal discretionary spending, excluding defense, 24 percent during the first three years of his presidency, adding $734 billion in projected spending over the next decade. Only this fiscal year will the deficit fall below $1 trillion even if several more trillion dollars will be added to the national debt in the coming years unless significant budget changes are made.
Yet the president dismissed the recommendations of his own commission for fiscal reform as well as three Republican budget plans, two of which were authored by Romney’s vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.
He claimed to be willing to “make tough choices” but never presented a credible plan for long-term fiscal consolidation.
He rejected all Republican suggestions for entitlement reform but never volunteered a solution of his own, even if those programs are the main drivers of the debt’s growth in the long term.
Romney, by contrast, has endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform agenda, which would introduce competition and choice to seniors’ health care and control costs.
The Republican also advocates a 20 percent income tax cut, although he hasn’t been able to explain how he would pay for it except by phasing out deductions and closing loopholes. Simplifying the tax code is necessary but if the numbers don’t add up it could widen the deficit. Romney may have overpromised in this regard but is more likely to adopt a realistic program of fiscal reform than the president, whose only concrete policy solution is raise taxes on the rich.
Both candidates say they favor a corporate tax reduction which would improve America’s competitiveness relative to other industrialized nations. The president has had nearly four years to accomplish this but never pressed Congress to do it. Instead, American competitiveness has declined four years in a row. Business confidence has faded as a result of repeated government interventions in the private sector and new regulations in energy, finance and health care.
The president’s rhetoric doesn’t suggest he will be a greater proponent of free enterprise and free trade in a second term. Rather, he calls for an “economic patriotism” which sounds like protectionism.
He has prioritized environmental concerns over the full exploitation of American coal and natural gas resources as well as the jobs that can be won in both industries. While he is keen to point out that American oil production and petroleum exports have risen in the last four years, it’s in spite, not because of his policies, which included a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, blocking the extension of an oil pipeline from Canada to Houston, Texas and the implementation of Renewable Fuel Standards which drive up the price of gasoline.
Romney promises to increase fossil fuel production. That would not only reduce electricity and gasoline prices but create jobs. Since 2008, up to 600,000 jobs have been added in the shale gas industry alone. This is an energy revolution that Romney is far more likely to support than Obama.
Barack Obama promised to bring “change” to government and hasn’t. The real change in next week’s presidential election is offered by Republicans who have repudiated the fiscally reckless “compassionate conservatism” of the George W. Bush years in favor of a common-sense, small-government conservatism the United States need desperately.