Americans face an important political choice this year, but sometimes the difference in the way the two candidates would lead the country can get lost in the political horserace coverage. A range of veteran politicians, policymakers and journalists discussed how a President Romney or a re-elected President Obama might govern.
To consider how Romney would lead, panelists examined Romney’s political background in Massachusetts, where he had to work with formidable Democratic majorities in the state legislature while pursuing his agenda. Vin Weber, former Republican member of Congress, was impressed by Romney’s deep grasp of policy details. The panelists also examined Romney’s decision to pick Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate. “What was Romney thinking?” wondered Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for The New Yorker. “Is Ryan an insurance strategy for working with conservative leaders later? Or an embrace of conservative values?” Weber pointed to the conservative center of power is in the House of Representatives, and that ideological pressure from House Republicans could constrain a President Romney. Lizza focused on Ryan’s credibility with colleagues in the House to demonstrate his true conservatism. No budget deal is considered “conservative” without a Ryan endorsement.
John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress and former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, saw a hypothetical Obama re-election as a solid rejection of the idea that Obama had engaged in radical change, which would strengthen his position to govern. The upcoming expiration of tax cuts paired with large spending cuts (the so-called “fiscal cliff”) could give the president bargaining power, and Podesta felt Obama could pass a budget reflecting his priorities. Tom Daschle, former U.S. Senate majority leader, also saw more room for maneuvering in a second term, with a less politicized, more statesmanlike environment in which to present his agenda.
Weber voiced concern over the impact of short-term budget cuts on foreign aid, seeing such cuts as detrimental to long-term American interests. He also saw big problems with Americans’ perception of foreign aid budgets. “I think,” he joked, “that my constituents believed that government spending was 80 percent foreign aid with the other 20 percent Congressional salaries.”
Lizza wondered what lessons the Republican party might draw from an Obama victory. If the GOP loses big in the Hispanic community, he said, that might necessitate going back to more moderate Bush and McCain immigration reform policy ideas. If re-elected, Podesta noted that Obama has two priorities with long term impacts: climate change and nuclear proliferation.
Scott Lehigh, columnist for the Boston Globe, didn’t see substantial policy differences between the candidates, and Daschle didn’t expect much vulnerability on foreign policy for Obama during the campaign. The big challenges, Podesta agreed, are here at home, and that’s what would preoccupy the president if re-elected.