There are plenty of important questions Jim Lehrer should ask Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during Wednesday night’s first presidential debate, but only one Big Question. Lehrer should keep asking it until he gets a real answer, even if it takes all 90 minutes.
The question is, “Why aren’t you seriously trying to solve the jobs crisis?”
The so-called “jobs plans” both candidates have put forth are, put simply, nowhere near aggressive enough to close the gap between where the economy should be right now and where it actually is, due to the Great Recession and the feeble recovery that followed it.
Voters understand this — just look at how many of them tell pollsters they’re not confident either candidate will improve the economy. Now, Lehrer needs to force the candidates to explain themselves. They’ll filibuster and offer platitudes.
Lehrer should not relent. He should say this: “Gentlemen, 13 million Americans want to work today but can’t find jobs. According to the nonpartisan Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, the economy remains 11 million jobs short of where it should be, by historical trends.
“President Obama: Your plan centers on spending more on infrastructure, education, and clean energy. You propose spending $200 billion on infrastructure projects, over six years, and promise that spending would ‘support’ 1 million jobs. You promise another 600,000 jobs by decade’s end from expanded natural-gas production. Mr. President, with all due respect, where will the other nine million jobs come from?
“Governor Romney: Your plan would cut income tax rates and eliminate some tax deductions. You say this would create 12 million jobs. But the federal government cut tax rates in 2001 and 2003 — reductions designed by some of your top economic advisers — and we ended up with the worst decade of job growth in American history even before the Great Recession came along. Today, marginal rates are lower than they’ve ever been in America. Why, governor, should we expect your tax cuts to deliver job growth that the Bush tax cuts did not?
“A follow-up, for both of you: Where is the creativity in your jobs plans? What will you try that is new or different from doctrinaire conservatism or liberalism? Where is the boldness Americans demand to solve the greatest unemployment crisis in two generations?
“And finally, let us deal with political reality. Neither of you is likely to take office with a congressional supermajority. Mr. President, which current Republican economic plans — and Governor, which current Democratic plans — could you support in order to reach a compromise on boosting the economy?”
This line of questioning could go on for the whole debate. Frankly, it should. This is America’s most pressing issue, and it’s time for someone to press the candidates on addressing it with the seriousness it merits.
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