Editorial: Voters need fine print of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's plans
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The conventions are over, the season of the sound bites is here, and voters haven't yet heard the messages the presidential candidates need to deliver. And because one is the incumbent and the other the challenger, what they need to tell us differs significantly.
First, the challenger. Mitt Romney has presented us with goals. They are largely worthy. Revitalizing the nation's economy and its balance sheet are goals President Barack Obama and the Democrats would support.
But Romney has given prospective voters little sense of how he would achieve them.
At the core of his campaign is Romney's promise to create 12 million new jobs. He has promised to trim $5 billion in deficit spending, while increasing military spending. He has promised energy independence. And he has argued that he can safeguard Social Security and Medicare at the same time.
But Romney hasn't said exactly how. Nor has he adopted running mate Paul Ryan's somewhat more fleshed-out plan, outlined in his "Path to Prosperity." And even the "Path," while it presents a realistic look at our financial challenges, is itself largely aspirational: The loopholes and deductions in the tax code that must be eliminated, as well as the details of entitlement trimming, aren't specified, and any reform faces stiff headwinds.
Romney has said he would lift regulations on business, unleashing them to grow, but not which regulations he'd eliminate. Voters need to weigh the effects on the environment and on consumer protections, but cannot without more specifics.
The task for incumbent Obama is different. His goals are no secret: The president wants to raise taxes on the rich. He wants laws that limit carbon emissions and encourage more and faster growth in alternative energy. He wants to fund more infrastructure, use federal funds to create more employment by local and state governments, cut reimbursements to health care providers and increase federal funding of public education. He wants to simplify the tax code and raise the tax on capital gains.
But Obama has wanted to do those things for four years, and has made little headway with most of them.
For his first two years, he had Congress on his side, but devoted nearly all his energy to passage of the Affordable Care Act, an achievement he failed to mention in his big speech Thursday night. While that was worth his effort and attention, many other goals went by the wayside in the meantime.
Romney, if elected, will face the same challenge, but he has not yet failed to pass legislation, and it's unfair to assume he would.
For a victorious Obama to enact his agenda, he must find a way to lead. That means building support among voters so strong Republicans fear it, and creating bipartisan legislation Republicans can reasonably support. And Republicans in Congress should stop their obstruct-at-all-costs agenda. They might, if the prospect of knocking Obama out of the White House no longer exists, but that change in direction isn't a certainty.
The election is eight weeks away. The paltry job-creation numbers released Friday reinforce the urgency for quick and decisive action by the winner. Neither candidate has given voters the information they need to make an informed decision. Real details are in order.
And it may well be that the candidate who does the best job providing them will be the one sworn in on Jan. 20.