Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

In this dented economy, cut the next president a little slack

First of all, get out and vote this Election Day. There's a clear choice to be made on many issues.

Just don't expect either presidential candidate to deliver a rapid fix to our economic woes. Odds are high we'll still be fretting over lagging growth and low-wage jobs come the 2016 election.

It is naive to believe there is a shortcut out of this hole we've dug for decades. And remember: A 2013 "fiscal cliff" awaits the lucky winner of this White House competition. That's more than $600 billion of federal spending cuts and tax increases that automatically take effect at the start of next year unless Congress acts.

For all the billions in election advertising piled on the U.S. electorate by the Obama and Romney campaigns trying to hype their differences, the candidates' playbooks on the economy will be closer in content than you might think.

Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have leaned toward the political center the closer we have gotten to Election Day.

Candidates promise change and action. But presidents rarely act alone. In this election, the winner will presumably — assuming no change in control in Congress — have to try and persuade a miles-apart, Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House to work together.

Romney says he wants to end Obamacare and create 12 million jobs. Yet health care executives are continuing to run their companies as if Obamacare is here to stay, because they know the odds of ending it are slight even if Romney wins — as long as the Senate stays Democratic.

Romney's promise of millions of jobs sounds a lot like Florida Gov. Rick Scott's campaign promise of 700,000 Florida jobs (in seven years). In a recovering economy — even this slowpoke one — many of those jobs will materialize regardless of who's running the state or the country.

Should Romney win, his greatest challenge is to not look like a replay of George W. Bush. When Bush took office in 2001, he liked being known as the CEO president. His two-term presidency ended in a historic financial debacle.

Romney has marketed himself as a private-sector whiz kid while head of Bain Capital, where he bought and sold businesses. Today he emphasizes his job-creation expertise, not how he maximized the price tags of the companies he sold off.

Those are different goals.

Obama's fate is complicated by a frustrating first term mired in massive deficit spending, a tepid GDP, a jobless rate just under 8 percent and a fading middle class.

If Romney lacks specifics about his strategies to fix the economy, Obama remains even more opaque on what a second term might deliver that is different from the first.

Experts warn that one thing is clear no matter who is the next president: Taxes will rise.

Come 2013, the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire. Economists have trimmed their U.S. GDP growth estimates to 2.4 percent for next year.

Whoever wins, cut him some slack. There's still much to muddle through.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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