Most people have heard the old saying: Be careful what you wish for. And, soon after Election Day, when the balloons have deflated and the euphoria of having made history has been tempered, either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama will quickly experience some gut-wrenching moments when confronted with the financial mess he has inherited. Past presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton each faced economic challenges but met them head on and made tough choices. Will Obama or McCain follow their example?
Each man has laid out ambitious economic proposals and initiatives in areas ranging from energy to healthcare to taxes, all of which would impact the federal budget significantly. Major fiscal challenges existed even before Wall Streetâ€™s meltdown. An August report produced by the Committee for a Responsible Budget projected that with a baseline budget deficit of $147 billion in 2013, the deficit impact of Obamaâ€™s tax plain would be $360 billion, and McCainâ€™s would be as much as $482 billion. In the area of healthcare, it would be $65 billion for Obama and $17 billion for McCain. During their second debate, neither candidate satisfactorily answered the question of what plans theyâ€™d have to scrap because of the bailout and state of the economy.
Urban Institute senior fellow Margaret Simms, a member of the B.E. Board of Economists, says that in a slowing economy, individuals and businesses will pay less even under the current tax structure, which affects federal revenues. And more people will be looking for social support, which affects expenditures. â€śThat means the new president will have fairly challenging tasks ahead in trying to implement any new programs, whether itâ€™s tax reduction or expenditure expansion,â€ť Simms says.
According to Simms, Obama will have to reduce his expectations for universal healthcare or alter the timeline of its rollout. This category is less problematic for McCain, who proposes a $5,000 credit toward the purchase of healthcare thatâ€™s offset in part by taxing employer-provided benefits. â€śBut his proposal to expand and deepen tax cuts could be problematic because thereâ€™s not a lot of room in which to work, unless he can tremendously alter expenditures. But most of what heâ€™s talked about doesnâ€™t add up to large reductions,â€ť Simms adds.
These challenges are exacerbated by a record deficit that may likely approach $500 billion and perhaps even a trillion dollars by January, as well as a probable recession. According to Leon Panetta, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget and Clinton chief of staff, in addition to the ramifications of the Wall Street bailout, the next president and Congress may face additional bailout requests from other companies and the states.
â€śThat door is now open, and weâ€™ll probably see a lot of people trying to come through it for additional assistance of one kind or another in the middle of this crisis,â€ť Panetta said at an economic forum hosted this week by the Committee for a Responsible Budget.
This dramatically limits both candidatesâ€™ proposals. Panettaâ€™s advice is to develop