Presidential debate: the questions they should (but won't) ask Obama, Romney

What would happen if Robert Reich moderated a presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? Reich offers his thoughts on what questions Romney and Obama should be asked in Wednesday's presidential debate. 

David Goldman/AP
Stand-ins for moderator Jim Lehrer, center, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, run through a rehearsal for a debate at the University of Denver Tuesday, in Denver. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold their first debate Wednesday. Reich offers his thoughts on what the candidates should be asked.

Governor Romney: You’ve said that you have used every legal method to reduce your tax liability. You’ve also said that as president you would close tax loopholes in order to help finance a major across-the-board tax cut. What specific tax loopholes have you used that you would close? A followup: Would you close the loophole that allows private-equity managers to treat their income as capital gains, subject to a 15 percent tax, even when they risk no capital of their own?

President Obama: You have spoken eloquently of the need to reduce the influence of big money in politics. What specific measures will you advance if you are reelected to accomplish this goal?

Governor Romney: You have promised to repeal the Dodd-Frank bill if you’re elected. Yet our largest Wall Street banks are significantly larger than they were before the near meltdown of 2008. How would you prevent another bank from being too big to fail?

President Obama: The Dallas Federal Reserve Board, one of the most conservative in the nation, has called for a limit to the size of Wall Street banks. Sanford Weill, the creator of Citigroup – one of the largest Wall Street banks – says Wall Street banks should be broken up. If you are reelected, will you support capping the size of Wall Street banks?

Governor Romney: You have said you’d repeal the Affordable Care Act if you’re elected. That would leave 30 million Americans without health insurance. You championed a small version of the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts. Does that mean you believe it’s more efficient for each state to have its own system for insuring the uninsured?

President Obama: Last December, in a speech you gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, you noted that in the last few decades the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by 6 percent. If you’re reelected president, what do you propose to do about this trend?

Governor Romney:  Your mathematics has been attacked by those who say it’s impossible to provide the tax cut you propose; expand the military, as you want to do; preserve Medicare and Social Security, as you promise to do; and at the same time balance the federal budget, as you say you’ll do. Can you take us through the math, please, with specific numbers?

President Obama: You have called for equal marriage rights for gay Americans. If you’re reelected, will you support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act?

Governor Romney: You support states’ rights, and don’t support wealth redistribution. Yet as you know, the citizens of most so-called “blue” states – notably California, New York, and Massachusetts – send more federal tax revenue to Washington than they receive back from Washington, while most of the citizens of “red” states send less tax revenue to Washington than their citizens receive back. Would you, as president, seek to end this subsidy of red states by blue states?

President Obama: In the 2008 campaign you and your opponent, Senator McCain, both supported some version of a “cap and trade” system for limiting emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. During the last four years, evidence has mounted that climate change may be doing irreversible damage to the planet. If you are reelected, will you push for a “cap and trade” system, or a carbon tax, or both?

Governor Romney: America has had some very wealthy men elected president. Your wealth is estimated to be more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The wealthy men elected president – a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt; Franklin D. Roosevelt; and John F. Kennedy – all fought for equal opportunity, reduced the power of large corporations and Wall Street, and gave average working Americans more economic security. Do you share these objectives, and, if you’re elected president, what will you do to achieve them? Please be specific.

President Obama:  TARP authorized not only a bailout of Wall Street banks but help to distressed homeowners. You chose not to condition the bailout of Wall Street on the banks reducing the amount people owed on their mortgages. In hindsight, do you think that was a mistake?  A follow up question, if I may: It is estimated that one in five American families is still underwater – owing more on their home mortgages than their homes are worth.  So far your efforts to help them have fallen far short of the goals you set. If you are reelected, what specific measures will you initiate do more for these families?

Governor Romney:  You have campaigned as a “businessman” who has the managerial experience to turn the economy around. Yet some say you’ve run one of the worst campaigns in recent memory – filled with gaffes, misstatements, poor timing, Clint Eastwood, and much else. Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, for example, calls your campaign a “calamity.” Should Americans be concerned about your management abilities?

President Obama: You faced a particularly truculent Republican congress. But some say you didn’t fight Republicans hard enough during your first term, that you often began negotiations with compromises, and you didn’t use the full powers of your office to get more of what you wanted. Do you think there’s any validity to this criticism and, if so, what will you do differently in your second term?

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