The Truth About All Those Plans From Presidential Candidates
For the most part, all those plans the candidates release are barely worth the paper they're written on.
[R]ealistically we live in a world where the media demands these plans at a level of detail that no president can deliver on, and pundits (like us) immediately jump on minor details of a plan that, in all likelihood, bears little resemblance to what will end up being put before Congress in the end, rather than treating them as initial negotiating positions, which is essentially what they really are.
This is a point that I think nearly everyone who talks about the “plans” that Presidential candidates put forward forgets, including myself. It is almost never the case that any of the specific plans that a Presidential candidate puts forward during the course of a campaign ends up getting implemented in a form resembling that plan if the candidate wins. The one notable exception that comes to mind is the Economic Recovery Act of 1981, which included tax cuts that had long been part of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign and which had been based on ideas that Congressman Jack Kemp and Senator William Roth had been talking about for several years previous. Even in that case, though, the tax cuts that ended up being implemented were lower than what Kemp and Roth originally proposed, because what could pass is the best that could get through a Democratic controlled House.
More often than not, these plans that candidates proposed are really just campaign props or, at best, initial negotiating positions as Chris put it. For example, during the Presidential campaign in 2008, Barack Obama opposed the health care reform plan proposed by Hillary Clinton principally because he opposed health insurance mandates. Two years later, he signed into law a health care plan that includes an individual mandate, because that’s what they were able to get through Congress. That’s how Washington works.
Today at the National Press Club, Herman Cain was asked how he’d be able to get the 9-9-9 plan through Congress in the light of how difficult it was to even get the debt ceiling increase through Congress this summer. It’s a logical question, of course. What Cain is proposing is perhaps the most radical overhaul of the nation’s tax code in decades, and our recent experiences make it pretty clear how hard it is to get anything through Congress. The Democratic opposition to such a plan is easy to anticipate, and would be a factor even if the GOP manages to gain control of the Senate. However, even Republicans aren’t completely sold on the 9-9-9 plan, or Rick Perry’s plan, or Mitt Romney’s. The idea that they’re just going to roll over and do whatever Cain wants because he’s the President reveals a rather naive view of how Washington works. Ronald Reagan appealed to the American people in 1981 to get his tax cut plan through Congress, but he also worked with Congress to make sure that the bill that was presented was one that actually had a chance of passing. We don’t live in a dictatorship, and the President isn’t going to be able to get away with telling Congress what to do, at least not when it comes to something as important as tax policy.
As Chris notes, the pundits are somewhat at fault here for demanding a level of specificity from candidates for President that is sometimes just a little absurd. The President has an entire bureaucracy and a team of political aides that help him put together the budget plan that gets sent to Congress every year. Even the most well-funded Presidential candidate has, at most, a team of economic advisers who have to rely on the economic statistics made available to them, and everyone else, by the very President their running against. The idea that they need to come up with a detailed plan that will probably never be implemented seems some what silly. Of course, it’s not all the pundits fault. You don’t hear Herman Cain saying “This is my initial negotiating position.” He says “This is my plan,” as does every other candidate and accompanying each such statement is the unstated implication that they will get it passed into law. Perhaps if we all viewed these things more realistically, we wouldn’t have to waste so much time on the details of a plan unlikely to see the floor of the House of Representatives.