EDITORIALS

How would GOP candidates spur recovery?

Posted Aug. 15, 2011, at 5:21 p.m.

With the 2011 Iowa Republican presidential straw poll in the books, the 2012 campaign is officially under way.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann won, Libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul came in second and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty came in third, prompting him to drop out of the race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, though not on the ballot of the small-sample GOP straw poll, made a decent showing, garnering more than 700 write-in votes from among 23,000 participants.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney skipped the event.

The candidates articulate what’s wrong with the country — high unemployment and too much government debt. They blame those conditions on the Obama administration. But what would they have done had they been in charge since January 2009, and more important, what do they plan to do if elected?

This week, The Maine Debate focuses on the Republican presidential field and what candidates would do to fix the economy.

Judging by their rhetoric, most candidates believe Mr. Obama is responsible for the weak recovery. Should they have taken the same actions he took? Would they not have approved the $800 billion stimulus package? Would they have taken any measures to stimulate economic growth?

Most economists agree the federal government is the only entity that can help a stalled economy. States can’t carry forward deficits, and the corporate world isn’t likely to spend money to keep people on the payroll for the good of the country. So the federal government, as it has in other declines, typically borrows and spends, expecting the recovery to produce fresh tax revenue with which it can repay the borrowed funds.

Would the GOP hopefuls have loaned money to General Motors and Chrysler? The president championed this move to save American manufacturing jobs. Some might say those automakers, whose products were out of step with the buying public because of poor reliability and gas mileage, should be allowed to fail. But as the funds have been repaid, it’s looking like a wise move.

What about health care? Spending — by private businesses, individuals and governments — accounted for one-sixth of the national economy, and was on its way to becoming one-fifth of the economy. Republicans pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and especially resist its requirement that most Americans carry health insurance, yet the GOP did little to address this drag on the economy when it controlled Congress and the White House. And in fact, President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D benefit added about $500 billion to the debt over 10 years.

The gross federal debt was $10 trillion when Mr. Obama took office and is now over $14.4 trillion. Certainly, this is not sustainable. But in addition to the two wars, the two Bush-era tax cuts and the new Medicare drug benefit, another factor is overlooked: tax revenues dropped dramatically as they always do during recessions. When the economy improves, so will revenue.

So what would a Republican president do in January 2013 to reduce debt and grow the economy? Join us on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at The Maine Debate.

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