Revisiting the presidential debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush tells the tale. At the Oct. 3, 2000, debate in Boston, both candidates spoke of what their administrations would do with what was then a projected budget surplus. Both candidates were promising to spend money from a surplus that never really developed. From Bush, the eventual winner of the 2000 election, vague promises fell by the wayside.
Oh, Bush kept his vow on tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans. However, his promises of fiscal discipline were never realized.
So, a line-item tally of a $16 trillion deficit shows that Bush’s tax cuts and wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan account for a major chunk of the deficit. Obama’s last three federal budgets account for less than one-third of the $16 trillion total.
The point of this trip down budgetary memory lane is to remind us that what’s said in the Obama-Romney presidential debates — as well as Thursday’s Biden-Ryan vice presidential debate — matters. Voters should expect and demand more details.
In last week’s first presidential debate and Thursday’s vice presidential debate, the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has yet to fully articulate the specifics of its plans.
Thursday’s debate moderator offered Ryan multiple opportunities to explain how a President Romney and Vice President Ryan would go about cutting taxes, lowering spending and reforming entitlements. Ryan avoided the question each time; the best he could offer was that the details would be worked out once they are in office.
To the delight of some and the head-banging frustration of others, the template is fairly well set for Team Obama. His administration will toe a fairly Keynesian fiscal policy line that operates from a three-legged stool of economics — trying to balance government taxing, spending and regulation with the interests of consumers and growth of business. More liberal Americans will decry the Obama method as too timid. More conservative Americans will proclaim it the second coming of Joe Stalin. Still, what you’ve already seen is likely what you’ll get again if Obama wins a second term.
The burden is on Team Romney to lay out details. In other times, Americans have been persuaded by candidates like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who vowed their administrations would cut taxes and decrease spending. In both instances, the promised spending reductions never followed the tax cuts, and huge deficits grew as a result.
If Romney and Ryan intend to follow a different course, they owe it to Americans to spell out the specifics.