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Should I vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

09/13/2012 12:38 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2012

This question originally appeared on Quora.
2012-09-12-gteal.jpeg
By Gary Teal, Republican

Vote Romney. That's my opinion. If you think I'm wrong, and you have time to let me explain myself, let me know where I've made an error below.

First of all, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be President of the United States, almost certainly for four years, and you shouldn't throw away your chance to participate in the decision. That means that you should be certain to register to vote, consider who to vote for, and cast a vote. You will probably have many opportunities to vote, maybe by mail, or perhaps for a couple of weeks before Election Day at a central location. There is no excuse for blowing it off.

Second, if you feel it's appropriate to send a signal of protest against the two party system, I won't discourage you from voting for another candidate. But I would want to make clear one fact and issue one serious caution. At the Presidential level, polling is professional and rigorous enough that there is no doubt as to whether a third party candidate might be viable on Election Day. If the first and second place positions are too close to call, you will be abdicating responsibility for the outcome by voting for a candidate with no chance of winning. (This rule doesn't necessarily apply at all for races with less or no polling. Outcomes often surprise even the self-appointed political experts, so vote for your first choice in those races.) The caution is a very consequential one. If there is a chance that voting for the third party candidate will result in the election of the candidate you least agree with, it simply is against your interests and completely illogical to take that risk. If you don't really care who wins, that's fine but you could also stay home, in that case. If you have any preference between Romney and Obama, I believe you should vote for one of them.

You already know who to vote for. There is not much I can say that will change your mind. You are reading this, so you are literate, and you are curious enough to ask the question, so that means you're paying attention already.

But let's start from scratch. Perhaps the first question is whether you are a single issue voter. If so, your choice is made without need for much further thought. Both candidates have clear records and have position papers on their web sites. Neither is bound to their party's platform language, so I would study their campaign websites. Needless to say, this simplest case assumes that you believe that action taken during the next four years on your issue is more important than all other issues combined. Consider the real likelihood of adverse outcomes on your issue separately from the position of the candidates. In other words, if you believe that the question of having or removing the word "God" in our pledge of allegiance and on our money is the most important issue facing our country, ask yourself whether it's really possible that the party that forgot to include God in their platform might succeed in a potential quest to ban all prayer in public settings. In this example, my point is that whatever each candidate might think or say, and whichever side you might be on, this is not an issue actually in play during the next four years. The status quo will not change because it isn't near the top of our national agenda, so choosing based on this particular idea, even if you hold it as most important, doesn't necessarily make sense.

If you don't have a single issue that makes your choice for you, you will end up possibly voting for a candidate with whom you do not entirely agree. You will vote for him knowing that, once in office, he may very well do a little harm (in your opinion), while doing more good (in your opinion). You still have a responsibility to vote.

Taxes, the budget, and the deficit are Congress's annual job, and certain to be debated and fought over. Republicans have made everyone happy by keeping taxes low, and at the same time, Democrats have kept everyone happy by expanding government services. Americans have grown accustomed to this unsustainable combination. Romney proposes to cut expenses by reforming Medicare and Social Security, and to cut taxes by repealing some parts of Obamacare and closing loopholes.

When any programs are cut, the American electorate may decide to replace a bunch of Members of Congress, which nearly always happens two years into a President's first time. A President Obama wouldn't get everything he wants, because the House is going to stay in Republican hands. A President Romney might or might not be able to make any big cuts. It's not realistic for the GOP to get to a filibuster-proof sixty seats in the Senate (though numerically possible simply because the 2006 Senate elections went so well for the Democrats that they have many more seats to defend.) Republicans may not have a simple majority (or the even split that would result in Republican control of the Senate due to the tie-breaking VP's role). Should the electorate send an unmistakable signal as they did in 2010 that they want cuts, all Members in both parties would move to the right in recognition of such a thing. It's by no means clear that would occur this November, though. This option is a tough road, with unpopular cuts to programs that help people. It won't be easy.

The President has an entire executive branch working for him and is required by law to present a detailed budget, so we have a much clearer idea of what he plans. See

For 2013, the President anticipates a 901 billion dollar deficit after taking in $2.9 trillion in revenue. Beyond that, revenues are projected to increase very substantially, increasing by 50% by 2017, when the next President will inherit whatever situation actually comes to pass. During that same time, layouts are projected to increase less than 20%. Budgets tend to be optimistic, and year after year the targets are missed, because they always assume vigorous growth, assume that voters will go for higher taxes, and often build in comparatively little growth in new spending compared to the pace set in recent years. Frankly, I would assume that a President Obama freed from the need to campaign for reelection would expand government programs for both the poor and for initiatives such as education that are easily sold as beneficial to the entire country. It seems to me that not only would Republicans suspect this, Democrats would hope for it. If it's your judgment that he would actually become more conservative in his second term, you can use that assumption.

So the great issue of our day is that we're spending more than we're taking in, year after year. The last time we actually spent less than we received in revenue was the years between the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, under Newt Gingrich, and the bursting of the dot com bubble in 2000. Other than that short period, we just borrow more money each year and add it to the national debt. We're up to 15 trillion dollars in debt, and there aren't many Democrats who believe that's a good thing, much less Republicans.

What is in Obama's budget plan to help close the deficit? Not an expiration of the Bush tax cuts for regular folks. As before, both Republicans and Democrats have said they will not allow any tax increases for middle income households. The public has responded in poll after poll that they support the idea of raising the taxes of the very wealthy and letting them pay for whatever services we want. I think it's practically unanimous here on Quora. Let's raise taxes on the very rich and let them pay for the services we agree we should provide to Americans who have no wealth at all and who often have little or no income. Sounds good.

Here are my problems. You may think that this takes most of the money from people who won't miss it, but you're wrong. First, the richest Americans by this definition includes everyone making over $250,000 a year in a household or $200,000 on an individual return, and I daresay that includes a very large percentage of Quora households at their peak earning years, if not today. (In other words, if you're in your twenties you may not be making that now, but especially if you form a household with a partner you probably hope to be in that range by the time you're forty. And if you're in your fifties, you are trying to figure out a way to get there before you die, even though you can practically feel the window is closing on you, and all your youthful dreams have been dashed, and you now think only of your children and trust that some of your original aspirations will be reached by them.) So fine - you don't mind, perhaps, and you are generous. These households can obviously bear the extra expense without hardship. However, they will have to cut out something; a vacation or a boat or a private school tuition. No tragedy at all, but it's not logical to think that taking this money out of their pockets will have no negative effect on the rest of the economy, whether in your view it is exclusively borne by professional 200 foot yacht captains, or, in my guess, it includes a much larger portion of the working population who provide the optional luxuries of the upper class, including a lot of personal trainers and car detailers and Viking stove installers and pool boys. They will be out of work.

Ah, you say, but this tax increase won't cause the really rich people to change their spending habits. True. (In fact, Nancy Pelosi and others have proposed raising the definition of "rich people" to those making over a million dollars a year.) There are two problems. First, this especially rich group amounts to only one tenth of the original group of rich, so Obama's budget raises taxes on a group which is 90% small business owners or very high salary earners like small company officers or partners in big law firms, etc. This bottom 90% of the top 2% will just have to pay the higher tax and do with less (or in some cases work more hours) because their income comes from the labor they do. However, turning to those making more than a million dollars a year, we have a very different case. Those people typically have a full-time accountant, or four of them. Their income comes not from a W-4 or a sole proprietorship or a restaurant or a partnership K-1. It comes from wide ranging investments. These people and their tax planners are not complete idiots who will happily pay higher taxes. They can shift their money around to whatever tax haven is available. I do not mean to suggest that they would in any way break the law. I mean that they might, for instance, hold onto investments longer, putting off recognition of income until a Republican returns to the White House. They might restructure compensation they get from a company they built and sold so that it is treated less like taxable salary and more like investment income. The famous 94% rates that were in place seventy years ago were not assessed against the full income of the very rich, and the fallacy that Americans were at some point willing to work just to keep 6% (or even half) of everything they made distorts our sense of proportion about current tax rates.

Assuming these rich people stand their ground and decide to pay the full new tax rate, the projected added revenue received by raising taxes on the entire proposed $200k/$250k-and-above households is 23.1 billion dollars. Dividing the proposed outlays for 2013 by 365 days shows that we would be spending about ten billion dollars a day of tax payer's money. So raising taxes on the "wealthy" pays for government operations on January 1 and 2, 2013, and then we're back to where we started. With this plan, we will continue to send the bill to our descendants. We will not be the Greatest Generation; we'll be the selfish generation that borrowed from our grandchildren to pay for whatever we needed and in many cases something to ease our own consciences. I do sincerely get it; we could use this money now. But I repeat: you yourself are probably unready to double your own taxes, especially if you are making less than $50,000 or so, and fund this government's aid to the truly poor. Contrary to what we all were wishing, there aren't enough rich people to pay for what we're spending. Obama's budget borrows the money from Malia and Sasha and their children so we can spend it now.

Vote Romney.

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