As the national economy struggles to find solid footing following the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, candidates for federal office, from the presidential race down to the local congressional races, are locked in a philosophical debate over how to create more jobs and get the economy growing at a faster rate.
Republican presidential nominee
"For the first time in a long time, the two political parties have really engaged over the question of which grand economic policy to follow – whether it's a Keynesian stimulate-the-economy approach or a more austere approach," said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at
Republicans contend that the Keynesian model has failed, which they say is evidenced by the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression under Obama's policies.
Romney campaign officials point out that while the federal budget deficit sits at roughly $1.2 trillion and the national debt has risen by over $5 trillion dollars to more than $16 trillion under Obama, the national unemployment rate has been higher than 8 percent during his term and the economy is only growing at 1.7 percent.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics place the national unemployment rate at 8.1 percent. The unemployment rate in Virginia stands at 5.9 percent. Unemployment in
Republicans say those numbers show that Obama's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package, which pumped nearly $900 billion into the economy, failed.
Obama campaign officials say that since the economy hit bottom in February 2010, the president's economic policies have created 4.5 million private-sector jobs, including more than 170,000 in Virginia.
FactCheck.org points out that when public sector jobs are included, the nation has seen a net decrease of 316,000 jobs since Obama took office.
Jesse Richman, professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said – and many economists agree – that the stimulus set a bottom for the recession and kept the economy from sliding into a depression.
"It put a floor to a degree on the slide," Richman said. "It reduced the rate of decline and helped us move from decline to stabilization."
Richman and Kidd said Obama's further efforts to stimulate the economy – in particular, the 2011 American Jobs Act – have been stymied by GOP lawmakers.
In the American Jobs Act, the president proposed giving money to states to hire teachers, fire-fighters and police officers; investing in shovel-ready infrastructure projects to create construction jobs; giving tax credits to small business owners who hire new employees; and investing in renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar, to create green-technology jobs.
To partially pay for the nearly $500 billion American Jobs Act, Obama suggested raising taxes on the nation's highest income workers. This includes letting the President
Obama campaigned heavily for the bill, including a stop in Hampton last October, but Republicans in the Senate blocked the bill and House Republican leaders never let it come to a vote.
In contrast, Romney has said he has a five-point plan that will create 12 million jobs over the next four years.
Romney's plan focuses on energy production, education, free trade, deficit reduction and small business growth. Specifically, he would offer tax credits for small businesses, lower the corporate tax rate, cut federal regulations and repeal Obama's health-care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.
Romney has been widely criticized, Kidd and Richman noted, because he does not explain how he would pay for extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts in addition to reducing taxes further for high-income earners.
Additionally, in recent months financial firms
Richman said, however, that Romney's plan does include some specifics, such as energy expansion and cracking down on
In Virginia specifically, Romney has said he will lift the Obama administration's five-year ban on drilling for oil and natural gas off the state's coast. Gov.
The largest U.S. trade deficit is with China, to the tune of $117.4 billion. Richman said while the Obama administration has taken some action over China's unfair trade practices – including filing a complaint last week – it has been unable to do anything substantial.
The campaigns have boiled the debate down to two simple arguments, Kidd and Richmond said.
Obama and the
Romney and the Republicans put it even more simply by asking Americans, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Richman said Obama is "currently winning the blame fight." He said polls show most Americans are willing to lay the blame for the economic crisis on Bush.
Kidd and Richman said Romney's argument is more difficult to make in the commonwealth because Virginia's economy is doing relatively well compared to the nation on a whole. That doesn't mean it doesn't resonate to a certain degree in Hampton Roads.
But Kidd said voters are "more sophisticated" than just focusing on their region alone and recognize the larger problems in the national economy.
Richman points to a recent ODU poll focusing on Hampton Roads. In that poll, 35.8 percent of respondents rated the national economy as "poor," and 48.4 percent rated it "fair." In the same survey 49.5 percent rated the Hampton Roads economy as "fair," and 12.7 percent rated it "poor."
"Romney still has a chance to make the argument that his policies will make things better," Richman said. "Although local residents are less pessimistic about the local economy than they are about the national economy, a majority remain at least moderately pessimistic about local economic conditions as well."
Kidd said voters will ultimately decide which of the two opposing economic theories will shape the nation going forward.
"One of the big questions Americans are going to answer this year is are we largely Keynesian or are we largely not-Keynesian," Kidd said. "In the end voters are going to vote on the economy."
Campaign messages on jobs and economic growth
President Barack Obama Virginia state spokeswoman Marianne von Nordeck:
"President Obama's policies have helped create more than 170,000 new jobs here in Virginia, and America has gained private sector jobs for 30 consecutive months, but we still need to do more as we fight back from the recession. While Republicans would simply double down on the same trickle down and outsourcing policies that caused our nation's financial crisis in the first place, the president has laid out a clear plan that will create incentives for companies to bring jobs back to the United States, help businesses hire returning veterans, put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and make critical investments in out-innovating and out-educating the world."
Republican National Committee Victory Campaign Virginia spokesman Michael Short:
"The policies of the last three and a half years have produced the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, with fewer jobs, declining wages, and unemployment stuck above 8 percent for 43 straight months. Adding insult to injury, President Obama is putting over 136,000 more Virginia jobs in jeopardy as a result of his devastating defense cuts. Mitt Romney will deliver the new leadership and strong economy Americans deserve by reversing the President's harmful cuts to our military and implementing his plan for a stronger middle class which will create 340,000 new Virginia jobs and more take-home pay."
George Allen spokeswoman Emily Davis:
"George Allen's number one priority is to get our economy growing again through his proven solutions in his Blueprint for America's Comeback. Millions of good-paying jobs could be created through his plan for a more simple, fair and competitive tax code, reasonable regulations and unleashed energy resources of clean coal, natural gas and offshore oil and gas development. With an understanding that tax increases don't create jobs, George Allen supports reducing the tax on job-creating businesses from 35 percent to 20 percent, creating an estimated 5 million jobs over the next 10 years."
Tim Kaine spokeswoman Lily Adams:
"This year, Governor Kaine has hosted nearly 100 round tables with small business owners, community leaders, veterans and seniors to develop a plan to grow the economy and create jobs. Governor Kaine believes we can create jobs and boost growth immediately by investing in infrastructure and leveling the playing field for small businesses so they can hire new workers. But Governor Kaine also knows we have to keep our eye on the future, which is why he's committed to fighting for resources and reforms at all educational levels to ensure our workforce can out compete the rest of the world."
"To rebuild our economy, we need to eliminate the uncertainty caused by Washington so Virginians can focus on what really matters. By keeping taxes low for families and small businesses, cutting bureaucratic red tape that stifles innovation, repealing the president's health care overhaul and replacing it with sensible, cost-reducing reforms, we can create a more stable environment for job growth. In addition, expanding American made energy – especially right here in Virginia – will not only create jobs, it will strengthen our national security. Lastly, a healthy Chesapeake Bay is critical to our region's economy, and I am committed to its restoration."
Democrat Adam Cook:
"Anyone who regularly commutes through the tunnels and over the bridges throughout Hampton Roads knows that these vital transportation arteries are nearing capacity and, with continued population growth, will have to be modernized in the near future in any case. Many regions of the country are facing similar needs to modernize, expand or repair vital infrastructure. With more than 13 million Americans unemployed, now would be a good time to move some of these necessary projects up, to create good jobs now and improve the business climate for the long term."
Democrat Paul Hirschbiel:
"Growing our economy and creating jobs will be my top priority when I get to Congress. There are still far too many people in Hampton Roads out of work, and countless more that are underemployed. As a lifelong businessman, I know what it takes to create jobs. I've traveled across the country, finding good ideas and building businesses, including right here in Hampton Roads. We need leaders in Congress who will take off their partisan labels and work together on a plan that will create jobs and get our economy moving again."
U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott:
"There are multiple programs with beneficial economic effects that Congress should pursue. Job training and retraining for unemployed workers could fill thousands of job openings in sectors where we have vacancies but not enough qualified applicants. Thousands of infrastructure projects still need completion, and spending on these construction projects is directly injected into local economies and multiplied. Unemployment Insurance is consistently cited by economists left and right as one of the most efficient ways of jump starting the economy, returning over $1.30 for every $1.00 spent. We cannot let partisan divisions keep us from reviving the economy with programs proven to work.""
Republican Dean Longo:
"We need to get the economy working again. Giving the government more money by increasing anyone's taxes isn't the answer. Unemployment in the 3rd District is 65 percent higher than the average for Virginia; African-American unemployment in the district reaches 25 percent. Personal and business tax policies are among the most effective tools to help jump-start the economy and bring jobs. We must give businesses incentives to expand. We must also allow people to keep as much of their money as possible. The expansion of business creates jobs, the increased cash increases personal spending. Together they grow the economy."
"Americans are tired of 43 months of unemployment above 8 percent. I believe in reducing Washington regulations, lowering taxes and creating incentives for entrepreneurs to start new companies in Virginia. I'm proud to have worked alongside Democrats and Republicans in the 4th District to create state, local, and federal partnerships as well as private sector partnerships to create and maintain jobs. Hampton Roads is full of opportunities to work together — opportunities to get our traffic moving, to fight defense cuts that threaten local jobs and home values, to bring new economic development to our region, and to strengthen our small businesses."