Questions for presidential candidates

Filed under OPINION

It is a foregone conclusion that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. It’s down to Romney and President Obama as opponents in November. The entertainment is over.  Let’s get down to business.

Consider what either candidate might do in three areas:

• Jobs – The unemployment rate ticked down just a tiny bit last month, from 8.3 to 8.2 percent, but only 120,000 new jobs were created.  We need to create at least 300,000 jobs a month for the next year or so to just begin to catch up with all the jobs that were lost. Black unemployment, at 14 percent, is at the Great Depression level of 25 percent when hidden unemployment is considered.

Unemployment is trending down, if slowly, and the Obama administration has been quick to share these facts. Further, if President Obama had been able to pass job creation legislation at the end of 2011, the rate might have dropped even faster.

My question to Mitt Romney would be how he plans to accelerate the pace of job creation and lower unemployment. I’d also ask him about high Black unemployment rates and targeting it. Finally, I’d ask him whether he still enjoys firing people and what message he thinks that sends to the least and the left out.

I’d ask President Obama at least two of those three questions.  I’d certainly ask what he would do to change the pace of job creation, what kind of legislation he thinks is needed for him to implement his plan, and whether he thinks he can pull a political consensus together to pass such legislation.

I’d also ask him about Black unemployment and targeting it. Finally, I’d ask about a focus on youth unemployment, given the fact that young people who graduate from college and cannot find jobs have lifetime effects from or two years’ worth of joblessness.

• Taxes – Former Republican candidate Herman Cain, he of the 9-9-9 plan that just didn’t add up, said that Romney was being “picked apart” by the tax issue. But Romney pays a lower proportion of his income on taxes than the average working person does, mostly because investment income is taxed at a lower rate than earnings. Romney has also called for an extension of the Bush tax cuts, while President Obama would eliminate them.

I’d ask Mitt Romney why he thinks it is fair for the rich to pay proportionately less in taxes than middle-income people.  I’d ask him bluntly whether he thinks he favors the rich and if so, why.  I’d ask him to detail his objections to the Buffett plan, and to offer an alternative plan for tax fairness.

I’d ask President Obama to offer, beyond the Buffett plan, other keys to tax fairness. I’d ask him whether investment income should be taxed at an equal or higher rate than earnings.  And I’d ask him what kind of coalition is needed to turn the Buffett plan into public policy.

• Students – While President Obama has vigorously defended Pell Grants, Romney would eliminate these grants and many other social programs.  Furthermore, students pay more than 6 percent interest on federal loans, while some of the bailout banks paid less than 1 percent interest on their loans.   If we believe that children are our future, why aren’t our future workers, students, more highly considered in the budget process?

I’d ask Mitt Romney what his horizon is for U.S. prosperity and what role today’s students play in that prosperity.  I’d ask him why he is opposed to Pell grants, and what he thinks of the interest differential between the way students are treated and bailout banks are treated.

Before I ask President Obama anything on education, I’d thank him for his fight to protect HBCUs and other colleges.  Then I’d ask about the interest differential, and about his progress on his pledge to restore the U.S. to world leadership in educational attainment.

Julianne Malveaux is author of “Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.”

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