TAMPA—In the aftermath of the Great Recession and amid an anemic recovery, polls show that most voters are focused on two issues: the economy and jobs. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney offer two different resolutions to those challenges and a host of issues, including regulatory burden, entitlement reform, immigration, health care and taxes.
National Journal and the Society for Human Resource Management sponsored a policy discussion in which Romney Policy Director Lanhee Chen, Ph.D., sat down with moderator Major Garrett to lay out what a President Romney would do about these pressing challenges.
Dealing with the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Is Top Priority for Incoming President
The “fiscal cliff” is a potent cocktail of tax-cut expirations and deep across-the-board spending cuts, along with the potential raising of the debt ceiling, all of which could happen simultaneously at the close of 2012 and the dawning of 2013. Chen said it not only impacts employment issues but policies across the political spectrum. “It’s pretty clear that the amount of financial contraction we will see as a result of the cliff will create some substantial problems. That’s something we’re going to deal with,” said Chen.
Romney supports the idea of a continuing resolution, currently in the works, that would provide temporary leeway until spring 2013, when, as president, he could come up with a path forward. “The most important thing is, we don’t want to see the government shut down,” said Chen. “That’s not in the interest of where we want to take the country.”
Extending the Bush-era Tax Cuts
Taxation will take center stage in the weeks following the presidential election when trillions of dollars of tax provisions will expire, from the Bush-era tax cuts on income, to breaks for small businesses and the Section 127 employer-provided education assistance benefit.
Romney is proposing a tax overhaul. His plans include making the Bush tax cuts permanent and reducing the marginal tax rates by 20 percent.
“We believe extending all the Bush tax cuts is the right position, if you look at this economy and where this recovery is going,” Chen said. “President Obama wants to raise taxes on small businesses [by only extending tax breaks to households that make less than $250,000 a year; most small businesses file their taxes through the individual tax code and would find themselves over the cutoff ].
“The last thing you want to see during an economic recovery is a tax increase,” Chen said.
Entitlement programs are consuming an ever-larger share of the federal budget: 10,000 Americans age into Medicare and Social Security every day as the proportion of young workers paying into the program shrinks. Romney has said that Washington needs to overhaul entitlement programs before the country faces a fiscal disaster.
Essentially, Romney proposes to offer a choice with respect to Medicare. “The key,” explained Chen, “is migrating all beneficiaries into a premium-support program while offering people an option to stay in traditional Medicare.” Romney’s position stems from the idea that competition will lower health care costs more than government oversight would. Seniors would shop for coverage, with the traditional fee-for-service plan being one of the options. “The fixed amount that government gives you can be used for either your choice of private plans or a bundle of benefits that is traditional Medicare. The choice is critical in this: the choice we believe will improve quality and bring down costs in the long run,” Chen said. “We think this is a pretty darn bold thing,” he added.
On Social Security, Romney has said that the retirement age should keep rising over time and that higher income beneficiaries should see fewer benefits than lower income beneficiaries.
Romney, Obama Not that Far Apart on Immigration
Even though immigration reform is often a volatile issue, the candidates’ plans for dealing with immigrants and the workplace are not that far apart. Both Romney and Obama support boosting high-skilled immigration by providing green cards to science, technology, engineering and math students that graduate from U.S. schools. Romney supports raising the cap on H-1B visas, a policy that organized labor opposes. Both candidates are open to an electronic eligibility verification program, such as E-Verify, for employers to determine if job applicants are work-authorized. But while Romney supports a mandatory system, Obama has said that he would only sign off on a mandatory E-Verify as part of a comprehensive immigration reform policy that includes legalization of undocumented workers.
The fate of the DREAM Act and DREAM Act children has been the most recent high-profile standoff on immigration between Republicans and Democrats. After DREAM Act legislation failed in Congress, President Obama established administrative two-year deferrals from deportation for those residents younger than 30 who were brought to the United States as children by their parents.
“The president unfortunately has put politics in the way. That has interfered with giving us the ability to have true, long-term reform,” Chen said. “There is a shared concern between Democrats and Republicans about the children of illegal immigrants. Gov. Romney has said this many times. He believes that DREAM Act children could qualify for citizenship through military service. There are other opportunities as well, that we would work with Congress on,” he said.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow his blog postings from the Republican National Convention on SHRM Connect:
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