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Obama, Romney short on specifics for voters

Associated Press Published: July 13, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Worried about the economy? The rising cost of health insurance? The burgeoning federal debt?

Yup, the presidential candidates have a bullet point for that.

But despite Republican Mitt Romney's 59-point jobs plan, President Barack Obama's 64-page blueprint for change and both candidates' lofty policy speeches, voters still sense something's missing.

Just 40 percent of Americans feel Obama "has a clear plan for solving the country's problems," according to a June survey by Gallup, while 38 percent say Romney has a specific proposal.

"This election so far has been about the future in only the most general terms," says William Galston, an expert on government and politics at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton administration official.

Obama and Romney have each "said and written enough to be able to argue that he has been specific," says Galston. "But when it comes down to what really matters — what are the top three or four things that I will do if I am elected or re-elected — I scratch my head."

While a lack of specifics is something that voters bemoan about their candidates every presidential election, the vagueness of the 2012 race is even more pronounced as both campaigns spend more time arguing about past issues like Obama's health care law and Romney's private sector experience than on what they'd do in the future if elected.

Plus, this year, each side is accusing the other of not being up front with the public about his plans if elected. Romney points to Obama's overheard comment to the Russians that he'd have more flexibility in a second term on issues like missile defense. And Obama and Democrats point to Romney's unwillingness to say exactly what would replace the health care law if he and the Republicans successfully repeal it.

There are plenty of ways to distribute blame for the public's fuzziness about the two candidates' intentions.

For one, there are still plenty of significant unknowns about their policy plans — more so with respect to Romney than the president, who's already spent 3 ½ years governing from the Oval Office.

Romney, for example, has pledged to cap total federal spending at 20 percent of the gross domestic product by the end of his first term, increase defense spending and put the federal budget on track to be balanced within eight to 10 years. But he's offered scant detail about the painful spending cuts that would be necessary to pull off such a trifecta.

Obama, for his part, has laid out annual proposed budgets for the federal government that are lush with details. But year after year, many of those details are dead on arrival in Congress, leaving voters to wonder how things would be different in a second Obama term.

The president also has put off some key policy decisions until a possible second term.

Earlier this week, while renewing his push to extend tax cuts only for middle-income earners, Obama said crafting a long-term plan to simplify the tax code could wait.

"Once the election is over, things have calmed down a little bit, based on what the American people have said and how they've spoken during that election, we'll be in a good position to decide how to reform our entire tax code in a simple way that lowers rates and helps our economy grow, and brings down our deficit," he said.

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