Voters are angry, and for good reason. Jobs are gone; poverty is up; one in four homes, the leading source of savings for Americans, is underwater, worth less than the mortgage. Many who voted for Obama are discouraged; some argue there isn't a whit of difference between the parties. An increasing percentage say they will vote against the incumbents simply to protest what is going on.
But there is a great difference between the two parties. It's personified by the contrast between the positions of President Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner.
On taking office, faced with an economy losing 750,000 jobs a month, President Obama called for a bold recovery program, a package of tax cuts, infrastructure spending, support for education and renewable energy, and extended unemployment benefits, food stamps and health care support for those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Although he supported bailing out the banks, Boehner said no to helping out Main Street, with zero Republicans voting for the plan in the House. In the Senate, Republicans worked to weaken the plan, making it smaller and stuffing in upper-end tax breaks like the alternative minimum tax that have little jobs impact. In the end, the Recovery Act spending, according to any independent economist, helped to stave off a far worse collapse, but wasn't big enough to create the jobs we need.
Now President Obama calls for adding $50 billion in investment in roads, runways and rail, for creating an infrastructure bank to mobilize private capital to rebuild America, for a range of tax breaks for small business owners. Boehner's plan is to keep tax rates where they are -- and to cut $100 billion from domestic spending next year -- a folly that would add hundreds of thousands to the ranks of the unemployed.
President Obama is for ending the deduction for Wall Street managers that enables them to pay a lower rate of taxes than their chauffeurs. Boehner is for protecting the tax break, as well as the Bush tax cuts for millionaires earning more than $250,000 a year that would add $700 billion to the deficits over the next decade.
President Obama is for investing in renewable energy, increasing fuel standards and driving the U.S. to recapture a lead in the new green industrial revolution that is sweeping the world. Boehner mobilized oil and gas interests to help dilute and stop energy legislation.
President Obama pushed to regulate the big banks, and establish a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would protect consumers from abuse by banks, insurers and credit card agencies. Boehner mobilized the bank lobby to oppose reforms, and calls for repeal of the consumer bureau.
President Obama pushed to extend unemployment insurance; Boehner opposed.
President Obama pushed health care reform, not only to extend coverage to all, but also to end abusive insurance company practices of denying those with pre-existing conditions, or setting a cap on what is insured each year. Boehner joined the insurance lobby in opposition.
Obama says we need a new foundation for the economy, with investment in education and training, in research and development and in modernizing our infrastructure. Boehner is opposed.
Obama would repeal the tax break that rewards companies that move jobs overseas. Boehner defends the tax break, and calls for more of the same trade treaties that helped lose one in three manufacturing jobs over the last decade and left the U.S. borrowing more than $2 billion a day from abroad.
And this is only on economic questions. For those thinking of staying home or casting protest votes, take another look. Boehner recently opened a Boehner for Speaker Fund, raising millions from corporate political action committees and lobbyists for Republican congressional candidates. The first big check came from a Wall Street bank.