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Politics / ELECTION ANALYSIS

A Great Ideas Vacuum on Jobs

President Barack Obama, right, listens to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. ((AP Photo/David Goldman))

photo of Jim Tankersley
October 23, 2012

There are no new details in the “second-term agenda” that President Obama released on Tuesday, no new plans to support the blistering pace of job creation that America needs to roar back to full employment. This is the rule of Campaign 2012, not the exception. Ask yourself: When was the last time either Obama or Mitt Romney announced a meaningful new economic-policy position?

Take your time.

The answer is probably … more than six months ago.

 

In April, Obama spelled out the terms of the so-called “Buffett Rule” imposing a minimum tax on millionaires — but, really, that wasn’t a jobs policy, it was a political ploy. You need to go back one more month, to March, to find the president unveiling the latest in a series of measures to boost the housing market, which for the past several years was a chief anchor on economic growth.  

Romney offered a few crumbs of detail this month on how he’d pay for his tax-reform plan — specifically, the possibility of capping deductions at a set amount of income such as $17,000 or $25,000. Otherwise, his economic plan has remained vague and all-but-unchanged since late February, when he added a 20 percent reduction in income-tax rates to his existing revenue-neutral tax-reform proposal.

That stasis would be fine, except that neither candidate’s platform even attempts to accelerate job creation to a pace sufficient to put the 12 million unemployed Americans back to work anytime soon.

Both candidates are focused on the medium term: How to reduce deficits, cut debt, and produce higher-skilled workers. In the realm of the immediate, Romney is running on a mix of simplifying taxes, expanding oil production on federal lands, and busting China for depressing its currency. Obama wants to steer more help to factories, spend more on infrastructure, and act more aggressively to heal housing.

They could, and should, be offering so much more.

But the sad truth of this campaign is the time for new ideas has passed. “It just feels too gimmicky” to offer up a brand-new, big-ticket economic plank this late in the game, said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a Republican economist who was John McCain’s top domestic policy adviser in the 2008 campaign. “And there aren’t a lot of genuinely effective one-off policies out there.”

Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist and former top Obama economic aide, said in an e-mail last week that “I don't think it's realistic” for the president to release a new plan at this point.

And so the country barrels down the presidential home stretch, wondering how their two leading candidates skated through the last half-year with underwhelming plans and insufficient details, in an election that was supposed to be all about jobs.

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