The first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney is scheduled for Wednesday, October 3, at the University of Denver in Colorado, which means it's not too soon to suggest some questions for the moderator, Jim Lehrer.
The debate is supposed to focus on domestic policy, and so do these questions:
For President Obama:
Mr. President, on the day you were elected in 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.5%, the national debt was $10 trillion, and a gallon of gasoline cost about $2.07. Nearly four years later, the unemployment rate is above 8%, the national debt is $16 trillion, and gas is about $3.85 a gallon. The number of Americans on food stamps has grown to 47 million now from 30 million in November 2008. On what basis can you say to the voters that you deserve to be re-hired for another four years?
Mr. President, in one of the presidential debates four years ago, you said, "we're going to have to take on entitlements and I think we've got to do it quickly." You said you'd like to do it in your first term as president. Why didn't you, and why should the voters believe you now if you say you are going to do it in your second term?
Mr. President, what is the highest marginal income tax rate that you think anyone should have to pay, including state and local income taxes? What would be your proposed federal income and payroll tax rates on ordinary income, dividend income, and capital gains income, as applied to what income brackets? If you can't name all the rates and all the brackets, isn't that an argument for tax simplification?
Mr. President, the Supreme Court upheld your health care law only on the grounds that the penalty for not buying insurance is a tax. Doesn't the tax then break your promise not to raise taxes on anyone earning $250,000 a year or less? Do your tax increases on cigarettes and tanning salons also break that promise? If you've already broken the promise at least three times, why should voters believe you won't break it some more in a second term?
Mr. President, your party's convention hailed the auto bailout as one of your great successes. But why should workers at lower-wage, non-union auto plants in the South, or in other industries, be taxed to bail out higher-wage unionized auto workers and retirees at General Motors? And since the GM stock would have to double its current price for the government to get its money back, wasn't this a bad investment? Finally, speaker after speaker at your party's convention criticized Governor Romney for an op-ed piece headline that said "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," without mentioning that your administration put both GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. Isn't that misleading?
For Governor Romney:
How were the John and Abigail Adams scholarships you championed as governor of Massachusetts different from the doubling of Pell Grants under President Obama? And how was the individual health insurance mandate in Massachusetts different from the one in ObamaCare? If voters are looking for someone to use tax dollars to expand access to higher education and health care, why shouldn't they just stick with President Obama?
You've criticized President Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare. Medicare spending was $391 billion in 2008, $430 billion in 2009, $452 billion in 2010, and $486 billion in 2011. How are you going to do anything to rein in entitlement spending as president if anytime you try critics are going to come at you with commercials combining ten-year projections and inflated future baselines to make it look like you are throwing grandma off a cliff?
You are airing campaign commercials promising that you will generate "59,000 new jobs for New Hampshire," "create over 200,000 new jobs for Colorado," "create over 700,000 new jobs for Florida," "create over 100,000 new jobs for Nevada," and "create over 340,000 new jobs for Virginia." Doesn't this undermine your message that jobs are created by entrepreneurs not by Washington politicians? How can you possibly know with such fine-tuned certainty and specificity how many jobs you will create in each state?
What would be your proposed federal income and payroll tax rates on ordinary income, dividend income, and capital gains income, as applied to what income brackets? If you can't name all the rates and all the brackets, isn't that an argument for tax simplification? If you plan to reduce or eliminate any tax deductions, which ones, and if you won't say which ones, why not? And if, as you've said, the reductions in tax loopholes or deductions would actually shift more of the tax burden onto upper-income Americans, then what's your argument for making the tax code even more "progressive" than it is now, when now the top 5% of income earners already pay about 59% of the federal individual income taxes even though they earn only about 32% of the adjusted gross income?
When you said in your convention acceptance speech "I will not raise taxes on the middle class of America," does that mean you are going to raise taxes on those you think are better off than middle class? How much are you going to raise them, and on who, exactly? Why didn't you talk about tax cuts in your speech, rather than just backing the status quo?