WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney has a ton of promises to keep if he becomes president, and that's on his first day alone, never mind the other 1,460 days. Barack Obama was similarly brimming with will-do's in his first presidential campaign, racking them up by the hundreds, big and small.
He's more restrained now. That's typical of an incumbent who's built a record, suffered rope burns from the tug of war with Congress and seeks to be judged on leadership that the country has already seen, instead of a list that may get lost in the wind.
The election is about economic revival on both sides, and that means a lot of nuts and bolts along with competing visions of how to achieve it.
So there are promises of training programs here, a Department of Business there, tax cuts galore, a powered-up armed forces, energy initiatives at every turn and more, all improbably paired up with pledges from both men to tackle the national debt.
Almost everything they promise hinges on the makeup of Congress after the election, their skill at twisting arms in those halls and postelection judgments about whether some things are really worth the fight. Romney's promised repeal of "Obamacare" can't happen without enough like-minded lawmakers, just as Obama's promised steps on climate change didn't happen — and that was with fellow Democrats in control.
Obama achieved the big health care law against tough odds, but an immigration overhaul eluded him and those George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy that he swore he'd end are still around, for him to go after again. That's why, despite the shortage of new promises from him in this campaign, he's got plenty outstanding.
A glimpse at a dozen promises from each candidate, with some handicapping:
1. Roll back Bush tax cuts for upper-income people. He compromised with the GOP and went along with renewing the expiring across-the-board tax cuts begun by his Republican predecessor, even though he wanted to revert to higher rates for couples making over $250,000 and individuals making over $200,000. Obama is still promising to raise those rates and more — and pretty much needs to, because much of his agenda depends on getting more tax revenue from wealthier people.
2. Put government on a path to cutting deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years. A tall order, and his performance on it over the next four years would help shape his legacy for better or worse. He failed in his first-term promise to cut deficits by half, instead running trillion-dollar deficits for four straight years due largely to the recession he inherited, a halting comeback and big spending to spur the recovery.
3. Cut imports of foreign oil by half by 2020. For generations, presidents have fruitlessly held out the dream of making the U.S. self-sufficient in energy. But the boom in domestic production may at last be nudging the nation toward that goal.
4. End subsidies to the oil industry. A leftover promise that went nowhere in the last four years.
5. Prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The U.S. has imposed painful oil and financial penalties on Iran to persuade it to cease uranium enrichment activity, so far without apparent success. Obama has left open the possibility of military action if that's what it takes to stop Iranian nuclear development.
6. "Take away tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas" as part of a plan to invigorate domestic manufacturing. A tougher slog than it might sound. U.S. corporations don't pay U.S. taxes on overseas profits unless they bring that cash back to the United States. Obama says this encourages outsourcing. Republicans say taxing such profits would make U.S. companies move headquarters overseas, not just production.
7. "I want to make sure that we get comprehensive immigration reform that gives young people who've been raised here a chance to live out their own American dream." This failed before. Obama would try again, and counts it as the first thing he would do next year after a deficit-cutting deal. Without needing congressional action, he decided on a temporary measure in June letting up to 1.7 million young illegal immigrants stay and work for up to two years.
8. Make higher education affordable for everyone, in part by halving the growth in college tuition over 10 years. Ensure by the end of the decade that the U.S. has more people with college degrees than any other country, recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in 10 years, help 2 million workers attend community college.
9. "My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet— because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke." From his convention speech, this was a rare reference to climate change from a president who pledged strong action in a first term, then fell mostly silent about it after promised legislation to cap emissions failed. Even so, Obama has come at the issue in other ways, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the law and steering billions of dollars into cleaner energy.
10. Strengthen Medicare by reducing the cost of health care. Steps already taken under the health care law improve benefits while cutting payments to hospitals and other providers by more than $700 billion over a decade — cuts used to help working-age Americans get insurance.
11. "We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years. You can make that happen. You can choose that future." In October, manufacturers added 13,000 jobs after shedding 27,000 the previous two months — not the makings of a renaissance. Obama has set an ambitious target, considering that manufacturing jobs have been steadily declining for nearly two decades.
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