Where Obama and Romney differ sharply

Dan Balz / The Washington Post /

Here are President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s positions on the economy, broken down by subject:


• Obama

Obama has called for spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to try to reduce the unemployment rate, which stands at 7.8 percent. He wants to offer tax credits to companies that hire more workers and give money to states and localities to hire more teachers and first responders. He also wants Congress to agree to legislation that would overhaul job training and unemployment programs that would better ease the jobless back into work — by continuing to pay unemployment benefits, for example, if workers get part-time jobs or apprenticeships.

To revive U.S. manufacturing and prevent jobs from leaving the country, Obama advocates tax breaks for companies that keep positions in the United States and penalties for firms that move work abroad. To make U.S. employees more competitive, he wants to create government-backed hubs that connect community colleges and businesses, making sure people are trained for open positions.

Obama also wants to spend $210 billion over six years to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges and railroads. He says that money represents half of the money the government will save as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down.

• Romney

Romney wants to lower taxes and reduce regulation in hopes of giving the private sector more flexibility to spend, invest and hire. He doesn’t like the idea of spending taxpayer money to stimulate hiring and has disparaged efforts to do so.

Romney would reduce individual tax rates by 20 percent and seek to offset the lost federal revenue by eliminating deductions, although he has not specified which ones. He also wants to end capital gains taxes (paid when stocks and bonds are sold) for people making less than $200,000 and eliminate the tax that heirs pay on estates valued at more than $5 million.

Romney has proposed reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, a change that would bring corporate tax rates in the United States more in line with what they are abroad. As a result, he says, companies would be more likely to keep their operations here, saving U.S. jobs. He also would transition to a “territorial” tax system, so companies pay taxes where they operate rather than requiring that American firms operating abroad pay a tax on foreign profits in the United States.

The deficit

• Obama

Faced with a national debt that exceeds $16 trillion, Obama has proposed a plan that would cut $5.3 trillion from the budget over a decade, roughly in line with what economists say is necessary.

The president proposes raising taxes on Americans who make more than $200,000 per year to the rates in effect during the Clinton era. That means 39.6 percent, compared with 35 percent now. He also wants to scale back deductions and loopholes that benefit the wealthy and specific industries, such as finance and energy.

Obama also would dramatically cut domestic spending, although he would exempt Medicare and Medicaid. Defense spending also would be reduced.

Finally, Obama says he would tackle health-care and retiree costs by modestly lowering spending on Medicare and Medicaid. He would not reduce benefits. He says some savings would grow out of his health-care legislation.

• Romney

Romney, who believes Congress should delay the “fiscal cliff” and wait until next year to forge a new agreement, has ruled out raising taxes and cutting defense spending as ways to improve the nation’s budget situation. Instead, he recommends cutting domestic spending and restructuring entitlements to generate savings.

Overall, Romney would seek to limit federal spending to 20 percent of all economic activity in a given year. It’s 24 percent today. He says he would immediately cut domestic spending by 5 percent and seek to shrink the federal workforce by 10 percent. Romney has not given a precise target for how much he would reduce the debt, but he has said he would seek to balance the budget in a decade or less.

Romney has pledged a comprehensive overhaul of entitlements. He promises that people in or near retirement wouldn’t be affected.

For Medicare and Medicaid, he recommends moving away from unlimited forms of spending toward fixed grants.

On Social Security, Romney says he would consider raising the eligibility age or reducing benefits over time, but he has ruled out increasing Social Security taxes.


• Obama

Obama has proposed building on measures he has already introduced to make it easier for underwater borrowers — those who owe more than their homes are worth — to refinance, taking advantage of low interest rates.

The administration is pressuring independent federal housing regulators to partly forgive the debts of some underwater homeowners. Regulators have declined, saying it would be too costly for taxpayers.

The president also wants to spend more money to rehabilitate communities hit hard by foreclosures.

Obama wants to shutter Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants, and he hasn’t said whether or how he would replace them. He has said he sees a future role for government in housing, particularly in helping lower- and middle-income people afford their first homes. Still, he has called for higher minimum down payments and other measures to reduce risk in mortgage lending.

• Romney

Romney says he wants to dramatically reduce the government’s role in housing. He says that although the government can help those facing foreclosure, the housing market must be allowed to bottom out before it can experience renewed prosperity.

He has been critical of Obama’s approach of providing taxpayer aid to homeowners and has preferred private-sector solutions, such as allowing a borrower who is facing loss of a home to reach an agreement with the lender. This would allow the borrower to give up ownership of the home without going through a foreclosure, which can damage a person’s credit record.

Romney wants to overhaul Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that they no longer pose a risk for taxpayers, although he has not specified how. He also wants to reduce and simplify regulation overseeing the financial sector, which he says would make it easier for homebuyers to receive bank loans.


• Obama

Obama has pledged to continue to promote free trade and is developing a new wide-scale agreement for open trade with about a dozen countries, including Chile, Peru and Vietnam. At the same time, Obama argues that workers who might be displaced by free trade should receive job training and financial aid from the government.

While an advocate of open trade, Obama says it must benefit U.S. workers and businesses. He supports subsidizing sales of American goods overseas by offering low-interest-rate loans to foreign companies that buy U.S. products. The effort is part of a plan to double U.S. exports by 2014.

He has pledged to defend U.S. workers and businesses by filing cases with the World Trade Organization protesting unfair trade practices by China and other countries.

• Romney

Romney is a strong supporter of free trade and has said he would seek more open-trade agreements than Obama, who has pursued fewer new pacts than his predecessor.

He argues that the president should have the power to send trade proposals to Congress for an up-or-down vote — making the approval process faster. He says trade agreements should be considered separately from whether aid should be offered to affected workers.

With China, however, Romney takes a harder line. He considers China a trading foe and says he would increase enforcement actions when authorities determine that the country is unfairly subsidizing its industries or taking other steps that inappropriately benefit its companies. He accuses the country of stealing U.S. technology and software.


• Obama

Obama says he wants to relax regulations where possible to make it less costly for companies, particularly small businesses, to operate. He has focused in the past on reducing regulations for new and growing companies. He has created an office in the White House to further analyze proposed regulation to assess potential costs to business.

Obama plans to preserve the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which aims to prevent financial institutions from misleading consumers and taking excessive risks that can hurt the economy. The legislation was his primary way to toughen oversight of Wall Street after the financial crisis.

• Romney

Romney would seek to scale back regulations that he says impose undue burdens on companies. He says he would limit how much new regulations could cost companies in a range of areas, including how much industrial companies can pollute and what telecommunications companies can charge their customers.

Romney would eliminate the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulation and replace it with a more “streamlined” version, although he hasn’t said what he would eliminate in the legislation.

About this series

The Washington Post is taking a comprehensive look at the positions of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on several key issues and what the candidates say they will do about them.

Today: the economy

Still to come ...

Health care

Foreign policy



Energy and other issues

The record: what they’ve done on the economy

President Obama

Obama came into office during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. His first action as president was to pass an economic stimulus package to stop the economy’s slide. The $831 billion plan included tax cuts, spending on construction projects and clean energy, and local and state aid. Independent economists say the stimulus funding saved between half a million and several million jobs over several years.

Today, 1 million more people are employed than during Obama’s first full month in office. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8 percent from a high of 10 percent. But the percentage of the population that’s working is still low compared with the historical average.

General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of collapse four years ago. Obama invested tens of billions of dollars and helped restructure the companies to stabilize them .

To deal with the downturn in the housing market, Obama launched programs to modify mortgages to make them more affordable. But the programs did not come close to reaching the goals he set. Obama promised to spend $50 billion to $100 billion on foreclosure relief, but only about $5 billion was used, even as millions of homeowners faced foreclosure.

Largely because of the recession, Obama broke his promise to cut in half the budget deficit — a measure of how much more the government spends than it raises through taxes. It is now more than $1 trillion.

Obama was the first president to see the nation’s debt downgraded by a credit-rating firm on his watch, although the firm cited as its top reason the political paralysis in Washington. He tried to achieve a “grand bargain” with Republicans to curb the mushrooming federal debt. The negotiations broke down, however, as the two sides could not come to terms on how much more in tax revenue would be necessary as part of a deal.

Mitt Romney

Romney became governor of Massachusetts in 2003, when the state was recovering from a recession. The bubble in the technology sector — the dot-com boom — had burst, leaving the state’s economy in a shambles.

Romney pledged to use his business acumen to turn around Massachusetts’ fortunes. He had developed that experience at Bain Capital, a private-equity firm.

There, he followed a philosophy known as “creative destruction” to buy weak companies, overhaul them and then sell them. In the best cases, this process led to vibrant businesses hiring thousands of workers, but in other cases it involved laying off employees.

As governor, Romney responded to the slow-going recovery with a $131 million stimulus bill, consisting of a one-day sales tax holiday and a rebate for companies that created technology jobs.

A year into Romney’s term, the state stopped losing jobs. The state continued to add jobs until his final month in office. During his term, Massachusetts’s unemployment rate declined from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent. About 50,000 jobs were created.

That achievement came during a prosperous time for the nation’s economy, and other states did better. During Romney’s term, Massachusetts created fewer positions than all but three other states.

By 2008, when the recent financial crisis hit and Massachusetts began to lose jobs again, it was one of only four states that had never reclaimed all the jobs lost in the 2001 recession. And although the unemployment rate had declined, that was largely because people abandoned the state to look for work.

A big challenge for Romney was filling a $3 billion budget shortfall under the state’s requirement that the legislature balance its budget every year. Romney eliminated corporate tax loopholes to raise the money.

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