Sunday, August 31, 2008

Promises, Promises

One concern I have this year is the seeming disconnect between candidates' positions on the stump and what they really intend to do when elected. Of course, not every candidate can keep their promises once elected, but its usually understood that a candidate will at least try to accomplish what she says she will when she asks for your vote.

This year, however, we seem to almost be giving up on that notion. The most startling example came when Senator Obama called for renogotiating NAFTA during the primary. Later, however, he pulled back from that startling statement:

Obama also appears to be backing off somewhat from his heated rhetoric from the primary campaign. He suggested in an interview with Fortune this week that he doesn't want to unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA, adding that "[s]ometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified."
In short, should we just assume that candidates can abandon anything they say during the campaign as "overheated rhetotic"?

Now, Congressional Quarterly columnist John Cranford notes that there is a disconnect between the promises and the revenue increases that will likely cause the Obama administration to drop at least some of its promises:

Obama’s call for spending $50 billion right away on individual energy credits and on aid to state and local governments to give a further boost to the weak economy — money that would need to be borrowed if it were to have any stimulative effect — doesn’t even count in this equation. No, the culprits are his call for $65 billion a year (or even more) to provide near-universal health care and his promise to boost domestic spending right, left and center. And there’s little evidence that Obama has a plan to pay for all this. Just last week, he reversed course and threw $2 billion to NASA to counter complaints that he would harm the space program, which he previously proposed trimming to finance enhancements to education.

On top of the spending proposals, Obama’s tax plan by itself would raise the federal debt by $3.5 trillion — or by roughly a third — over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center run by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. And that calculation takes into account his proposal to increase taxes on those he calls rich.

No need to worry though, because we're not really going to actually do what we promise:
None of this means, of course, that Obama’s proposals won’t resonate with voters who feel the pain of foreclosures and falling home prices, or who think the economic policies of the past eight years have failed them. After all, his call for a more progressive tax code and for increased spending on domestic priorities are Democratic Party staples. And surely some of these ideas will survive if he wins the keys to the White House. The question is, which ones?
SOME of the ideas will survive? Well, that's reassuring.

Businessweek makes the same point:

Politics, the weak economy, and the reality of the ballooning federal budget will all limit the next President's room for maneuver. McCain's low-tax strategy could well be chewed up in a Congress that is likely to be even more Democratic than it is today. Obama's lofty plans could be undone by the hefty costs of his health-care plan and other programs. Even some Democrats may not stomach the huge expense and vast complexity of Obama's proposals.

In every election there is a big gap between what the candidates promise and what they can actually deliver...This year that gap between promise and reality may be even larger than usual.

I don't want to beat up on Obama, though. Cranford will take a similar look at Senator McCain's proposals next week, and I'll be sure to link to it as well. The important thing, though, is that we listen to what's being proposed and then hold the candidates accountable if elected. Or, at least make them explain the need to change course.

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