In Ohio, Obama and Romney Both Offer Few New Economic Proposals

In twin speeches in the swing state, both candidate bash each others' plans, but new solutions aren't forthcoming.

President Obama delivered a lengthy speech at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. (Reuters)

Neither President Obama nor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said anything on Thursday that Ohioans hadn't heard a million times before. Every four years stretching back decades, presidential candidates swing through Cleveland and Cincinnati and towns in between to proclaim middle-class workers are getting screwed and that if we just cut taxes, or make better government investments, or crack down on China, everything will be all right again for the hard-working people of the state.

Ohio, by virtue of its swingy electorate and its sluggish economy, has made sort of a cottage industry out of BS-testing the rhetoric Romney and Obama are now raining on the rest of the country. That's true even now, when the state unemployment rate is below the national average but still way too high for comfort. You see this when you visit the state or, better yet, spend an entire election cycle there. Ohioans aren't easily impressed, and they don't buy the easy fixes.

To their credit -- if you can call it that -- neither Obama nor Romney bothered to pack any new fixes into their "major" economic speeches in Ohio. They mostly just ripped on each other's fixes, and repeated a few old ideas of their own. Romney bashed Obama's stimulus bill and his unwillingness to call out China for manipulating its currency to the detriment of American exports. He promised that under his watch the Keystone XL oil pipeline would come in from Canada "if I have to build it myself." (Which, technically speaking, would be a net job creation of 1.)

"The policies the president put in place did not make America create more jobs," Romney said. "As a matter of fact, he made it harder for America to create more jobs." Obama bashed Romney's call for lower tax rates at the top and looser regulation of industry, by calling them a redux of former President George W. Bush -- which they basically are, although Romney would add cuts in entitlement programs and other federal spending to the Bush tax-cut elixir. He lamented the plight of the middle class, but confined his proposed salves for those workers to spending more on education and allowing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.

"If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try," he said, "then you should vote for Mr. Romney."

Obama also told his crowd in Cleveland that "both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see." If that were true, Ohioans could be understandably gloomy. Like, that's it? Really?

Fortunately, there are a lot of important, detailed parts of each candidate's economic agenda left to be fleshed out. Next time they hit the Buckeye State, it would be nice if the candidates answered:

  • What would Romney -- who supported the concept of fiscal stimulus in the face of plunging employment in early 2009, though not the stimulus Obama eventually signed -- have done differently to pull the country out of recession?
  • If Romney were to scrap the Dodd-Frank law, as he promises, what "common sense" reforms would he replace it with, in order to insulate Ohioans from another financial crisis?
  • What tax deductions is Romney willing to vaporize in order to pay for his 20 percent reduction in tax rates, and where is his math showing how his policies would balance the federal budget?
  • How would Obama deliver substantially better results for middle-class families in his second term than he did in his first term, when median incomes stagnated even after the recession ended?
  • Will Obama allow his Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate rules that would slow one of the big drivers of job creation in Ohio, the boom in natural-gas hydraulic fracturing?
  • Which safety-net programs is Obama willing to cut, and how, as part of a long-term debt-reduction deal?

The most important question is a very basic one. It's also one Ohioans have been asking, to little success, for a long time now: If you win, how will you make things different -- better -- for me?