Romney and Obama: Big Speeches, Little Vision

By :: June 14th, 2012

Yesterday, Mitt Romney laid out what his campaign said was his vision for health reform. Today, he followed that up with a talk on economic policy. And President Obama delivered a speech that his campaign promoted as a framework for economic policy. Sadly, while men both included plenty of criticism of the other guy, neither told us very much about how they’d actually govern.

First Romney: The former Massachusetts governor has this problem. He must find a way to convince voters that he has an entirely different idea for health reform than Obama who, of course, lifted his own version from none other than Romney.

So in an effort to put something new on the table, Romney proposed…well, he didn’t really propose anything at all. He recited a carefully-parsed version of the usual GOP talking points: Block grant Medicaid (a polite way of saying he’d cut the federal share of that program), make it harder for patients to collect damages for malpractice, and expand tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts. He’d also create health exchanges that would somehow be different than the exchanges in the Affordable Care Act. Finally, Romney promised to “end tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.”

That last idea is intriguing, but what does it mean?

In 2008, GOP presidential nominee John McCain proposed a bold plan to replace the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance with a refundable tax credit for individuals. The idea, which has broad support among economists and the backing of a few brave politicians, was sharply criticized by candidate Obama as a big tax hike.

So Romney, as is his wont, only talks about the easy part—boosting those tax subsidies to help individuals buy insurance. He says not a word about what he’d do about the current exclusion. Would he end tax discrimination by subsiding both individual buyers and those who get their insurance from their employer? Doing both would add tens of billions to the deficit. So how would he balance the budget too?

Now to Obama, who has had a rough couple of weeks: He doesn’t seem to know what to do about Romney, who is running the same kind of change campaign that Obama ran against the Washington establishment in 2008—a gauzy criticism of the status quo unencumbered by a real agenda. And the president--a master of that soaring change rhetoric-- seems much less comfortable playing defense.  

So, to reframe the debate, Obama today delivered what was billed as a major economic speech. But, like Romney’s health talk, it was largely devoid of serious new ideas. Instead, the president seems to be running on a recycled version of last year’s stimulus proposal and echoes of his past budgets. You know the drill--subsidies for alternative energy, education, and basic research, modest new infrastructure spending, and tax cuts on firms that hire in the U.S. These ideas are not only old, they are small....

Obama says he is serious about fixing the deficit, but says only he’d raise taxes on companies that hire overseas and those individuals making $200,000 (couples making $250,000). No word on where his spending cuts would come from.  

It is surely true that Obama and Romney have very different views about the role of government and the nation’s future. But neither man is telling the full story of how he’d fulfill his respective vision. We know where they want to go, but not how they’d get there.    

Long ago, President George H.W. Bush was roundly criticized for lacking what he allegedly called “the vision thing.” Today, in the race between management consultant Romney and the ever-cautious Obama, we may again be watching a campaign with a large sinkhole where that policy vision is supposed to be.


  1. Michael Bindner  ::  5:48 pm on June 14th, 2012:

    Nothing Obama can say will save him if the voters want to throw him out because of the economy. He has to actually do something. Of course, he may get an assist from Romney in the debates. Any hint of disrespect for the office will rally the Obama base, both among the young and west African descendents. Remember “That One” in 2008? It was a rallying cry for 40-somethings on the fence. The GOP convention is also a mine field for Romney, as hyper-conservatives will want the microphone and generally expect to be pandered to. Still, if the economy tanks and Romney makes no major mistakes, he could win – although the current electoral account favors Obama by 55 electoral votes. Romney needs 100 – Obama needs 45 (and in reality probably has it sown up). If the reality is obvious to Republican donors, there may yet be a tax deal BEFORE the election – which takes it off the table as an issue.

  2. Obama Reboot Reax | The Penn Ave Post  ::  10:01 am on June 15th, 2012:

    […] Sullivan Highlights from Romney's and Obama's speeches: Unlike me, Howard Gleckman was unimpressed by Obama's speech yesterday: Obama today delivered what was billed as a major economic […]

  3. AMTbuff  ::  8:06 pm on June 15th, 2012:

    That last idea is intriguing, but what does it mean?

    It’s clear that Romney intends to broaden the tax base by ending the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance. You can fault him for not stating it explicitly, but Howard, please don’t pretend that you can’t read between the lines as well as I can. Go ahead and state the obvious: Romney aligns with Bowles-Simpson principles on this item.

  4. Ralph H  ::  7:11 am on June 16th, 2012:

    In today’s era of negative campaign ads do not expect either candidate to propose actual solutions, especially broad based tax increases. You can only base your vote on Obama’s presidential record and his prior lack of executive experience, against Romney’s broad business experience and governor record.

    For me, as a business owner, I feel Mr Obama has no clue as to how the private sector works and is motivated to expand. In this area I can only hope for change and that means Romney. I can only trust Romney will effect change that will improve the general economy.

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