Next Wednesday, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will confront the same question Robert Redford posed to Peter Boyle, his character’s campaign consultant, in the iconic final scene of “The Candidate.”
Locked out of the office early this week as Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast, Assistant Editor Elizabeth Weingarten considered a variant of this question with a number of other New Americans via email: What will next Tuesday’s outcome mean for a range of policy questions in the next four years? We kicked off the virtual conversation with an issue that the next president will face immediate pressure to resolve: reducing our out-of-control deficit.
Elizabeth: Is the election result likely to make a big difference on how the fiscal cliff issue gets resolved, given that the big momentum seems to be with the Simpson-Bowles approach, and that the market will likely determine the outcome?
Marc Goldwein, Senior Policy Director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: No matter who is elected president, we are scheduled to go off of the Fiscal Cliff while President Obama is in office. But a newly re-elected president is likely to take a different approach to the cliff than a lame duck one. My presumption is that if Governor Romney wins the election there will be an agreement to defer the real discussions to February or March -- perhaps with a short-term extension of everything. If President Obama wins, those discussions will hopefully begin the day after the election and reach some type of conclusion in the lame duck.
As someone who worked on the Simpson-Bowles commission and supports their recommendation, I don't think those recommendations will be enacted into law as the final deal. I do believe that Simpson-Bowles provides an important framework and a number of important specifics, which will inform the final deal.
We like to talk about going big, going smart, and going long. Ultimately, any credible deal needs to follow the Simpson-Bowles model of being big enough to put the debt on a clear downward path, smart enough to enhance rather than inhibit economic growth, and focused on addressing long-term issues rather than only short-term ones. Such a plan would allow us to replace the abrupt and mindless cuts and taxes in the fiscal cliff with a gradual and intelligent plan to get us back on track.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow: We're talking about a Congress (and president) that has been unable to pass a run-of-the-mill, just-get-this-year's-bills-paid budget for years. And that failure has been a touchingly bipartisan effort. It seems wildly unlikely that this will be the moment when everyone stops kicking the can and decides to take this thing seriously, no matter who wins the election. This is not a particularly novel observation, so this knowledge is likely already incorporated in the markets.
Elizabeth: Katherine, as our resident libertarian, are you hopeful that Romney will shrink government in any meaningful way?
Katherine: I think there's a non-zero chance government will grow slightly slower under Romney than it would under a second-term Obama administration. But that's the best I can offer. Romney has already taken so many categories off the table--military spending, entitlements and so on – that it's hard to imagine what he will have left to cut. I don't think even Big Bird has much cause to be nervous: Republicans have been yammering about cutting government (and PBS) for years without actually managing to do it. Government spending grew under Reagan, after all. No reason to think Romney will be different.
Elizabeth: Andrés, do you see a big difference in how Congress and the next president will approach other domestic policy efforts beyond the fiscal cliff issue?
Andrés Martinez, Vice President and Editorial Director of New America: It seems that every four years we are supposed to state that this is the most important election in our lifetime (especially since none of us were alive in 1860), and it’s understandable to imagine the stakes being incredibly high in 2012 given the resources being devoted on both sides and the ferocious tone of the campaign. But when I step back and look at the actual policy implications of the election for the next four years, I am skeptical that this is a particularly consequential election.
For one thing, as Marc suggests, the fiscal constraints are going to force a reckoning that either Romney or Obama will have to accept, and will likely be dictated by markets. On healthcare, Romney has pledged to do away with Obamacare on day one, but this promise seems as realistic and sincere as Obama’s campaign talk four years ago of renegotiating NAFTA. Already, after shaking the Etch-a-Sketch between primaries and general election season, Romney has been going around saying all the things he likes about Obamacare that he’d keep, including coverage for pre-existing conditions and coverage under parental policies for adult children into their 20s. The individual mandate is what pays for these goodies, as Romney understood when he was governor, and it’s already been upheld by the Supreme Court. The Obamacare train has left the station, with the insurance industry already angling to benefit from it and states scrambling to set up their exchanges by 2014 as required by legislation. The Medicaid provisions the Court took issue with will probably be tweaked, and Republicans could inject more competition across state lines, pass modest tort reform, and claim victory, while keeping the rest of Obamacare intact. Medicare does present stark differences between the two candidates, but I think the Romney/Ryan voucher-based reform is about as likely to make headway as President Bush’s partial privatization of social security did.
Elizabeth: What about immigration, an issue I know you follow closely?
Andrés: There, too, the shaken Etch-a-Sketch produced a far more pragmatic general-election Romney (his true self, in my view) than the primary-season “self-deportation” extremist. And others in his party, especially Jeb Bush and Karl Rove, have been calling for a more reasoned stance vis-à-vis the nation’s fastest-growing demographic. So whether Obama is re-elected or Romney pulls an upset, I think prospects are good for modest, incremental immigration reforms in the next couple of years.
On the whole, I think this campaign keeps reverting to cultural issues, because concrete policy differences may not be as opposite as the nation may be culturally divided.
Elizabeth: What’s your sense, Kevin ? Do you see any daylight between Romney and Obama on education policy?
Kevin Carey, Director of the Education Policy Program: On education, there are two big differences between President Obama and Governor Romney, neither of which are directly a function of philosophical differences on education itself. First, Romney is far more likely to pursue an austerity agenda that results in major cuts to federal education programs. The cuts in domestic discretionary spending guaranteed by his budget framework make this all but inevitable. Second, a Romney presidency would implicitly support the anti-federalist movement among Congressional Republicans who view federal education policy of any kind as contrary to traditions and precepts of local control. The two candidates appear to have fairly similar ideas about issues like teacher evaluation, charter schooling, and the important of higher education. But, compared to what was enacted the Obama Administration, a Romney presidency would provide a much less fertile environment for new education policies and provide fewer public resources to support them.
Elizabeth: Gender issues have – sometimes unintentionally – taken center stage during this race. Liza, what’s your sense of how campaign acrimony would translate into policy differences post-inauguration?
Liza Mundy, Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow: For Obama, I think the policy implications of victory are clearer than they are for Romney with regard to so-called women's issues. If the president wins re-election, presumably he will continue pursuing the same basic policies: support for Head Start and support for Pell grants, which benefit women more than men since more women are going to college. He’ll continue funding for entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security, which women tend to support even more than men.
From time to time, Valerie Jarrett and/or other members of the administration will convene summits on women and girls in which the need for more forgiving work-family policies will be discussed, including more paid sick leave for workers, for themselves and to care for ailing dependents. And presumably he will have a very hard time winning concessions like paid sick leave and maternity and paternity leave from corporations in the current economic climate. But maybe there will be successful pressure for additional legislative pay-equity measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
For Romney, it's harder to know. Will he ask for binders containing names of women to staff his cabinet? Will he press for more women at the top? If so, how? Will he mandate that businesses hire and include more women? On that last one, I'd be inclined to think not. I believe that he believes in inclusiveness, in a general kind of way, but he has also talked about the importance of having one parent at home with children in the early years. Presumably he doesn't mind if that parent is a dad, but it doesn't strike me that he will take concrete measures to get more women into the workforce or to shore up the positions of women already there. One wonders whether a Romney administration could undo support for contraceptive coverage that exists under Obamacare; maybe that arena isn't so secure as the other ones Andrés describes. And then there is the big looming question of Supreme Court appointments and the fate of Roe v. Wade--what judicial appointments he might make and whether a new test case would be brought.
So the future could be more of the same, or it could get very bumpy and noisy and interesting as this election itself has been. Hopefully, whatever it contains, we will hear no more talk of legitimate rape and some of the other bizarre, terrible canards that this cycle has produced with surprising frequency.
Elizabeth: Much has been made, particularly after the last debate, of the overwhelming similarities between the candidates' foreign policy platforms. But, of course, promises and statements made in stump speeches and debate arguments can change quite a bit post-election. How, then, do you think the election could actually change American foreign policy, Rosa?
Rosa Brooks, Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow: Well, here’s a concrete change: If Romney wins, expect him to resurrect waterboarding -- he thinks it's fine. On the broader policy questions, who knows? I have been critical of the Obama administration’s inability to articulate a coherent grand strategy, but Romney is truly all over the map. He says all kinds of contradictory things, so it's hard to know whether President Romney would be more like Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or more like Dick Cheney. The worst news about Romney? Three-fourths of his foreign policy team are Bush administration retreads.
Elizabeth: Is your concern, then, that Romney might be more trigger happy towards Iran and Syria?
Brooks: That would be my fear-- you surround yourself with neocons, you're likely to get a neocon foreign policy.
Elizabeth: Since President Obama took office in 2008, open and inclusive Internet and technology policies have become increasingly important domestically and globally. Sascha, how could those policies evolve based on who wins the election?
Sascha Meinrath, New America Vice President and Director of the Open Technology Institute: U.S. technology and Internet policy must become a higher priority issue no matter who wins the 2012 presidential election. For too long, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, broadband in the United States has languished.
The sad reality is that this stagnation has had hugely detrimental economic impacts spanning transportation, education, health care, manufacturing, and the service economy. There can be no 21st Century economy without a 21st Century information infrastructure.
Whereas U.S. foreign policy under the leadership of Hilary Clinton has made Internet freedom a core focus, domestically this is still an underappreciated issue. Whoever wins the election needs to put in place a cadre of tech-savvy decision-makers who are empowered to make the hard choices to rapidly improve our critical communications infrastructures and disrupt a status quo that is clearly dysfunctional. Luckily, this is an issue that Republicans and Democrats alike can get behind -- a truly pan-partisan win that either candidate can claim as their own.