Kristen McAvoy is an intern for China.org.cn and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As the 2012 US presidential election approaches, the attack ads are increasing, polling is in full force and donations are pouring in. The candidates are making the rounds as they visit the swing states across the country. Consequently, the coverage of these campaigns can best be described as a three ring circus that makes voting an overwhelming task for many citizens.
Incumbent president Barack Obama and Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have now zoned in on each other creating multiple attack ads criticizing each other's track records on almost every salient issue pertinent to this campaign. As the truth becomes a blur, it is important to have a thorough knowledge of the candidates, including their records and positions on specific issues.
So which candidates' campaign ad claims can be backed up by hard facts?
I will start with the issue of federal spending. There have been various claims with regards to Obama's rate of spending. Romney's website claims "federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history". Obama's campaign staff disputed this statement claiming it was completely false. Data were presented from a column on Market Watch which illustrated that under President Obama "spending has grown at the slowest rate of any president in over six decades".
So who was right? The Washington Post wrote an article about these varying claims, which goes through all of the numbers and attempts to shed light on how Market Watch came up with its numbers. The Washington Post calculates that Obama's annual spending growth rate from 2008 to 2012 is 5.2 percent, substantially higher than the Market Watch calculation.
These percentages, however, do not take factors like inflation into account. In order to do this, the Washington Post compared federal spending to the size of the US economy. "That at least puts the level into context, helping account for population growth, inflation and other factors that affect spending," the article said. The author found that "in the post-war era, federal spending as a percentage of the US economy has hovered around 20 percent... Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II".
Hence, it appears Romney won the first round. Although the recession played a role in additional government spending, the fact remains that Obama has spent faster than other presidents in recent history.
Secondly, both candidates claim they will significantly cut the US deficit. In 2008, Obama campaigned that he would cut the deficit in half if he were elected president. Unfortunately, that has not happened. The Obama administration has also claimed "when Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts was Number One: Number One in state debt - $18 billion in debt, more debt per person than any other state in the country."
According to CBS News, the deficit has risen by $4.9 trillion during Obama's term. One of Obama's defenses for this number is that a lot of this spending was due to programs implemented during the Bush administration. However, the deficit rose $4.9 trillion during Bush's eight years in office, which makes me question this claim. Regardless, Obama's campaign promise to half the deficit turned out to be a fallacy. Instead he increased the debt by about $5 trillion in four years. According to the Washington Post, Obama increased the rate of federal debt by an average of 10.1 percent each year.
Massachusetts did in fact rank number one in state debt for all four years of Romney's term, according to the Washington Post. However, Massachusetts has a history of high debt ― it ranked first and second the two years before Romney took office. Also, Romney did leave the state with approximately $2.6 billion in debt, but it is important to note that federal debt and state debt are not the same thing.
While the federal government can borrow money for whatever it wants with no ceiling, Massachusetts, by law, has to balance its budget every year ― which means the operating budget cannot exceed the state's revenues. The state may, however, borrow money for capital projects such as building roads, hospitals etc., which are expected to be value-adding investments. Hence, states increase their debt by borrowing to maintain infrastructure which is not included in the budget, but they should get a return on their investments. So technically, while in office, Romney increased the state debt by $2.6 billion. However, at the same time he decelerated the average annual rate of increase in Massachusetts debt from 8 percent to 4.1 percent.
Comparing Romney's deceleration of the Massachusetts debt to 4.1 percent each year in office versus Obama's 10.1 percent per year debt acceleration, it would appear that Romney also wins this round.
In dealing with unemployment, Romney appears to be the clear winner ― the jobless rate in Massachusetts fell from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent by the end of Romney's term. Conversely, the unemployment rate nationally under Obama rose from 7.8 percent at the beginning of his term to 8.2 percent as of this month, according to the Washington Post and USA today. However, this doesn't take into account that unemployment soared to 10.2 percent in 2009 at the height of the recession, which has since fallen over 2 percent to its current level during Obama's term. Hence, there seems to be no clear winner when it comes to dealing with unemployment.
Taxes are the next big topic. Obama claims Romney will decrease taxes for the wealthy and increase taxes for the masses, and Romney claims Obama will raise taxes for everyone. So what do their records tell us? Romney did cut select taxes while he was in office, but he has also received a lot of criticism for raising roughly $700 million in additional revenue through other fees and penalties, while claiming not to raise taxes.
Obama has a slightly mixed record on taxes as well. He certainly supports a higher tax rate for the wealthy while cutting taxes for the middle class, but in terms of making those goals a reality, he has had mixed success. For example, Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts to be permanent for anyone bringing in less than $200,000 a year, but he made a deal with Congress to extend them for only two years instead. Similarly, he has supported multiple temporary tax breaks for the middle class, even though he would like them to be permanent. He has, however, significantly raised taxes on smoking and tanning salons. As for tax increases for wealthier Americans, the question remains whether he can get Congress to pass such measures.
When looking at the two candidates' records, I don't think either man wins or loses this round. The goals of each candidate certainly follow party lines, but in terms of actions, neither has blatantly cut or raised taxes significantly.
Based on the following analysis, it looks like Romney wins on economic issues. But I caution to name a winner since the presidency and a governorship are very different positions with very different resources and powers. Even though Romney decreased unemployment and the rates of debt the percentages are minimal, especially compared to other Massachusetts governors. Similarly, Obama has not kept many of his promises and his numbers are pretty depressing compared to other presidents. The truth is neither candidate has an exceptional track record despite what they want you to believe. Voters should stay informed by fact checking all claims in this election, regardless of their own political ideologies.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.