By David H. Kirkwood
One of the funniest things I’ve read on HearingHealthMatters.org or any other blog is my colleague Holly Hosford-Dunn’s post this week on zombies. Yes, zombies. The topic doesn’t have much to do with Hearing Economics, which is Holly’s usual beat. But tonight is Halloween, so she’s entitled to step outside her usual boundaries. I urge you to read it and laugh.
Another significant day is coming up soon that, like Halloween, can be mighty scary. I’m talking about Election Day. My opinions on this year’s presidential election don’t constitute, strictly speaking, a Hearing View, though the subject is certainly one of significance to all our readers. I should add that, like every Hearing View, it is the opinion of the author (me, in this case) and is not intended to represent the views of any of my colleagues at HearingHealthMatters.org.
Also, as with every Hearing View, I welcome comments from readers.
By now, you’ve probably heard or read all too much about this year’s election. If you live in a “swing state,” you’ve been bombarded with ads for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Another 1500 or so words on the topic likely won’t sway your decision. Yet the outcome of this election is so important and so much in doubt that I’m going to do my best to convince you to vote to re-elect the President.
Given that both parties agree that the economy is the single biggest issue in the campaign, I will focus on that topic.
DON’T FORGET THE FACTS
Governor Romney’s chances of winning depend largely upon persuading Americans that President Obama has failed to set the U.S. economy on the road to recovery. To do that, he needs to make voters forget what the situation was when Obama took office on January 20, 2009.
As you will recall, we were mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The gross domestic product (GDP) had declined by 3.7% and 8.9% in the last two quarters of 2008 and it shrank by 5.3% in the first quarter of 2009. However, by the third quarter of the year, the GDP was growing again, thanks largely to passage of the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka, the economic stimulus package). And starting with July-September 2009, the economy has grown for 13 consecutive quarters.
The day Obama was inaugurated, the country was near the end of a six-month period in which, under President George W. Bush, the country had lost nearly 3.5 million jobs, more than half a million a month. Not surprisingly, the hemorrhaging of jobs did not end the day that Obama took the oath of office. However, during the second half of 2009, after the economic stimulus package began to kick in, average monthly job losses had declined substantially. In 2010, the nation gained over 1 million jobs, and 2011 saw an increase of 1.8 million jobs. This year, growth is on track to be about the same as last year.
To be sure, the unemployment rate is still too high and the economy is not yet growing as fast as anyone would like. But this situation has to be viewed in the context of the deep hole that the country was in when Obama took office.
It must also be remembered that in everything he tried to do, Obama faced the unified opposition of the Republicans in Congress, whose leaders declared from day one that making him a one-term President was their highest priority. That created a strong incentive for them to block any initiative that would make Obama look successful to the electorate.
Indeed, some of the administration policies that started employment growing again were fought tooth and nail by Republicans in Congress and by their presidential nominee. One was the economic stimulus package, which the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office credits with a 3.3 million increase in jobs in the two years after its passage.
Another was the decision to provide federal bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler that kept them in business and saved the nearly 1.5 million jobs now held by employees of the car manufacturers and of feeder companies to the auto industry.
While Romney now claims he supported the same approach, in fact, he called for banks, not the government, to rescue Detroit. That would have been impossible during the financial crisis that struck late in 2008 and continued into 2009. The credit markets were frozen and short-term loans to provide much-needed liquidity for the auto companies were not available. The government was the only source for the short-term loans that saved a whole industry and started a large section of the Midwest on the road to economic recovery.
The financial crisis, which seized up money markets, was another aspect of the extraordinarily challenging situation that faced the new President. To be fair, President Bush, with bipartisan support from Congress, had already approved the U.S. Treasury’s purchase of $700 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which got credit flowing again. However, the situation remained dire when Obama took over, and he did much of the heavy lifting required to restore the nation’s credit market.
IT’S ABOUT THE FUTURE
Even if voters acknowledge that the Obama administration pulled this country out of the Great Recession, some may believe that Romney will do a better job with the economy over the next four years. Certainly he has told people that he will—over and over and over. But what he has failed to do is present any reason to believe him.
When the former Massachusetts governor says that he can magically produce “12 million new jobs,” I urge readers to scrutinize his record. Neither in his tenure at Bain Capital nor in Massachusetts has he shown that he knows how to create jobs. Note that when he became governor, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts was below the national average; when he left it was roughly the same.
Romney also promises to lower all federal income tax rates, those of the rich and the middle class, by 20%, and also boost defense spending by $2 billion, all without increasing the deficit. How is that possible? Well, he says, in addition to slashing discretionary non-defense spending, he will reap untold revenues by eliminating tax loopholes. Which loopholes? That he refuses to tell us, though he promises not to raise the low tax rate on capital gains (which has kept his own taxes below 15% of his income).
Maybe he will eliminate deductions for mortgage interest payments, charitable donations, and dependent children. The problem is that getting rid of these popular deductions, even if it were politically possible (which it isn’t), would come nowhere near paying for the $7 billion needed to cover the lower tax rates and increased military spending he wants.
The President, in contrast, has presented a detailed plan to cut deficits by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. It includes some cuts in both defense and domestic spending. It also calls for raising the tax rate on those with the highest incomes, while extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. Certainly this approach is more realistic, better balanced, and fairer than the challenger’s.
Originally an epithet coined by opponents of the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” has grown more and more popular since its enactment in 2010. Even Governor Romney likes the idea of covering people with pre-existing medical conditions—though he has no plan for paying for it.
Basically, when he signed Obamacare into law, the President moved the United States a giant step closer to doing what every other prosperous country in the world already does: ensure that all its citizens have access to health care. The U.S. did this for Americans 65 and over when Medicare was created in 1965–over fierce opposition. Now, few Americans would like to grow old without that program, which is why the Romney-Ryan proposal to replace it with a voucher approach seems so ill advised.
While Obama’s program does not cover everyone, it accomplishes a lot. It prevents people from losing their health insurance if they lose their job, if they exceed a lifetime spending limit, or if they have pre-existing conditions that would previously have allowed insurance companies to deny them coverage.
As for the argument that we can’t afford Obamacare, the truth is that people without health insurance already do get medical care. Unfortunately, they get it mostly in hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive place to be cared for, and at a time when their condition has probably worsened and become more difficult to treat successfully. What they don’t get are preventive care and health maintenance, which is the more effective, less expensive way to go.
The rising cost of health care has reached a crisis stage in many countries, but especially in the U.S. where per capita spending is much higher than in any other country. But repealing Obamacare, as Romney promises to do if elected, will only make the situation worse.
The world is too complex a topic to discuss here, but I’ll make a couple of comments. Although Romney repeatedly accuses Obama of being a “weak” leader overseas and of conducting an “apology tour” for America, it was interesting that during the final presidential debate, the challenger agreed with virtually all of the President’s policies, including toward Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
As for Obama’s alleged “weakness” and “apologizing,” I suspect that Bin Laden and Qaddafi would strongly disagree–if they were in position to do so.
THE SUPREME COURT
The U.S. Supreme Court is sharply divided between two factions: the five justices appointed by Republican Presidents and the four justices appointed by Democratic Presidents. While not all their rulings break down that way, many of the most important ones do, such as the Citizens United ruling that allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in support of the political candidates of their choice.
It is very likely that the man elected President next week will appoint one or more justices. And it is even more likely that the survival of Roe v. Wade will depend upon which President fills the next vacancy on the High Court. If you believe, as I do, that the government should not make a woman’s health decisions for her, and if you believe that a small minority should not be in a position to deny women access to contraception, cancer screening, etc., then you have yet another reason to re-elect Barack Obama.