Derek Conrad is a project consultant in APCO’s government relations practice based in Washington, D.C. Elise Tollefson, project consultant in APCO’s Washington office, served as a fellow for a House Republican Member.
APCO Worldwide’s Elise Tollefson and Derek Conrad respond to the policy challenges impacting the United States and especially young voters discussed during the October 16 presidential debate.
Oil and gas production on public lands fell by 14 percent, and natural gas by 9 percent from 2010 to 2011; federal permitting has increased 12 percent over Obama’s term. Total gas production has fallen 17 percent on public lands, but total production levels are the highest even domestically. Domestic petroleum and fuel production is at its highest level since 1994. Fracking has led to a domestic gas production boom, and the Obama administration has invested heavily in alternative means of energy production.
What is the government’s role in shaping domestic energy production, both fossil fuel and alternative, and is there a need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions?
From the Left
Tuesday’s debate had little discussion on energy policy beyond a he-said-she-said on whether energy production on federal land has decreased or increased under President Obama; missing the larger problem that fossil fuel resources are finite and demand is always increasing, both campaigns avoided detailing their vision of longer-term energy policy.
On October 5, MIT hosted a debate on energy policy with surrogates from the Romney and Obama campaigns. Romney’s plan, as detailed by Oren Cass, the domestic policy director for the Romney Campaign, contains four key points:
- The federal government has no role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions
- Cancel government support for renewable energy
- Cancel government support for improving energy efficiency
- Revoke mercury and air toxics standards
During last night’s debate, Romney did voice his support for increased nuclear energy production in the United States, but that does not go far enough. The government should play an integral role in developing alternative energy technology, improving energy efficiency to make every barrel of oil go further and provide regulations to protect our country’s land and air – the companies that pollute should not be allowed to pass on pollution related externalities to the American public.
From the Right
During the second presidential debate, President Obama pressed onward in his relentless pursuit of green energy investment. Superficially, government investment in alternative energy seems to be an important step in moving the United States from foreign oil to what candidates for office like to call an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. The practical upshot of this philosophy, however, is wasted taxpayer dollars and a number of unintended consequences for the market when the federal government is given the authority to pick winners and losers. Solyndra should stand as a clear case against the Obama administration’s selective, not “all-of-the-above,” energy policy.
While concerns regarding environmental dangers and degradation have their merits, too many opportunities to create both jobs and additional sources of energy have been thwarted by excessive environmental regulations. The position of the Romney campaign is to scale back the influence of the federal government in energy production, thereby allowing the energy market to work properly.
Sixty percent of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated using a firearm – yet discussion of gun control has largely been absent in the campaign debate so far, despite high-profile mass shootings such as the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting and the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis.
How can the federal government balance concerns about gun ownership with public safety?
From the Left
There is one change in gun laws that will prevent the thousands of homicides in the United States that involved the use of firearms. Finding the correct balance between individual freedom and the public safety is something Gov. Romney thinks is best left up to the state and local level; downtown Washington, D.C., is not rural Montana.
At last night’s debate both candidates avoided discussing any new gun regulation or infringement on personal liberty. Romney made a strong point on the need to change the culture of violence that contributes to the average 87 Americans killed each day by firearms. This change can be achieved through increased education and increased parental involvement to help bring hope and a future to the young people most likely perpetrating and being victims of gun-related homicide.
From the Right
There is a great deal of concern in President Obama’s hometown of Chicago surrounding recent gun violence on the south side of the city. There is also a case to be made that, while former Mayor Richard Daley pushed through a number of gun controls and a handgun ban, his response to urban crime may not have been an effective one. The Chicago Police Department is left underfunded, Chicagoans are often left unprotected and perpetrators of Chicago gun violence are somehow holding on to their weapons, ban or no ban. During the debate, however, neither President Obama nor Gov. Romney made a strong case for gun control or weapons bans, turning instead to community solutions to urban violence.
There appears to be a general consensus in Washington that the current U.S. tax code is unnecessarily long and complex, a structure which may inhibit business expansion and economic growth. However, there is also an obvious rhetorical divergence between Republicans and Democrats on how problems in the tax policy space should be remedied.
How can the next administration work to reform the tax code to achieve optimal future growth?
From the Left
President Obama utilized last night’s debate for multiple attempts to tie Gov. Romney’s tax plan’s preferential treatment of upper-income Americans to the failed policies of the Bush Administration. With unemployment remaining stubbornly high, it is my opinion that President Obama is polling as strongly as he is due to the palpable similarities in the minds of American voters between Gov. Romney’s policies and those of President Bush.
Gov. Romney continues to say that the top five percent of tax payers will not pay proportionately less than they do today. In the same breath as saying this middle class will not have their taxes increase, Romney says that everyone will be affected by a deduction cap – taxpayers will have to pick and choose what deductions they most need if they reach the cap. Romney’s tax plan continues to be criticized by outside sources as fiscally impossible; I think it’s time for the candidate to make clear how his plan will, according to the accounting standards used in the budgeting process.
President Obama pointed to the actions of Congressional Republicans as roadmap of what a Romney administration would do. Congressional Republicans have been holding the tax rate of 98 percent of Americans hostage for the benefit of the top 2 percent of taxpayers by income. Favoritism for the richest Americans and refusal to consider additional revenue measures are long held Republican positions and not conductive to future economic growth.
From the Right
The federal government’s bottom line is important, but President Obama often fails to recognize the bipartite role of the tax code as revenue stream and incentive structure. Gov. Romney has successfully made the case for tax policy that considers the contributions of the American business community. In his effort to downplay the negative effect and inequitableness of higher taxes on some of the country’s most successful job creators, President Obama pointed out that the income tax increases he supports would not affect 97 percent of small businesses.
Romney fired back with a noteworthy statistic: The top three percent of small and midsize companies in the United States employ half the country’s workers. One million employers and 50 percent of all small business capital fall into the “$250,000 and above” category that would see higher income taxes if the Bush-era tax cuts expired for high earners. Where Obama sees additional revenue for the federal government, Romney sees less capital for those businesses that are most crucial to the U.S. economy. What’s more, President Obama focuses so much on higher taxes for the wealthy as a means to debt reduction, and yet fails to recognize that 1) the top 10 percent of earners are already paying more than 70 percent of the taxes and 2) taxing every American making more than $250,000 annually would only fund the government for 98 days. The “fairness” approach is appealing in theory, but irrational and problematic in practice.
While it remains to be seen what a revenue-neutral tax reform plan would look like under a President Romney, his successful attempt to shift the rhetoric from “fair share” and “tax breaks for millionaires” to a clearer picture of what higher income taxes mean for the 75 percent of U.S. businesses that file taxes as individuals is a very significant step in the right direction. Gov. Romney was also more specific about his tax plan in the second debate. While he continued to emphasize that limiting deductions is an important piece of keeping tax revenue at current levels, he also promised individuals and families that they will be able to choose their deductions and that tax deductions would be capped for the wealthy.
Despite his somewhat successful attempt to be more specific in the second debate, Gov. Romney did not take advantage of a few blatant opportunities. Perhaps the most obvious of these opportunities was President Obama’s attack on Romney for proposing a tax plan that would guarantee more favorable rules for the biggest U.S. businesses. Ironically, President Obama bestowed the White House “Jobs Czar” appointment upon Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, a company that paid $0 in taxes in 2010 and actually received a net benefit from the federal government as a result of the bailout of GE Capital. Gov. Romney must begin pointing out the president’s tax and business policy inconsistencies if he is going to win the argument on taxes.
Women’s Wage Equality
Women have come a long way in the workplace–they now comprise approximately 47 percent of the work force. However, on average, women are still making 70 cents of every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
What is the federal government’s role in addressing this discrepancy?
From the Left
A better question could not have been selected for President Obama by the DNC. Obama summarized his passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which improved women’s legal options to fight discriminatory wage decisions. Obama pivoted to a different policy focus: Pell grants. By fighting to improve access to education and to decrease the gender wage gap, Obama is helping women across the country first find a job, and then ensure that they are treated equitably at that job.
Gov. Romney, whose campaign, and with Congressional Republicans, has opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Law, spoke on the governor’s past experience recruiting women colleagues; declaring he had “binders full of women” – a phrase that probably would have been more effective stated in a different way.
The federal government cannot effectively monitor all income to ensure total equality; what the government can provide is a legal option for women who have suffered from gender-based pay discrimination.
From the Right
The Lilly Ledbetter Act, guaranteed access to birth control, and Affordable Care Act stipulations for employer-sponsored health insurance (including designated space for breastfeeding and disclosure and reporting requirements) appear to be significant benefits for women and grand steps in the direction of equality for women in the workplace. That may be the case, but not if the women in question are employers. The Lilly Ledbetter Act exposes employers to additional employee lawsuits, who can now claim that their employers are engaging in discrimination by paying them less, burying often-innocent, well-meaning business owners in unnecessary legal fees.
After the Affordable Care Act, employers will be forced to shoulder the cost of more expensive health insurance plans that include birth control and stipulations such as special rooms for breastfeeding. Gov. Romney fairly noted that businesses, particularly religious institutions, should not be forced by the federal government to pay for employee birth control, but he missed the mark on the small business argument. President Obama praises the Affordable Care Act for its women-specific provisions without recognizing their cost to already-burdened employers.