WASHINGTON — The focus of the first debate will be the economy, understandably enough. But the next president will, or should, have much more on his domestic plate. Herewith, some proposed questions:
President Obama, climate change has been on the back burner during your presidency. In your acceptance speech, you spoke of climate change as “a threat to our children's future” and cited “my plan” to deal with it. And that would be … ?
Gov. Romney, in your acceptance speech you seemed to mock the notion of climate change. You have called for additional study because of a “lack of scientific consensus.” What is your basis for saying so, and what would it take to get you to act?
Gov. Romney, you have said that businesses need regulatory certainty. Auto companies and workers support the Obama administration's new fuel economy standards, which will also save drivers money and reduce carbon pollution. Why do you oppose what your campaign called these “extreme standards”?
President Obama, your own jobs council has warned against government obstacles that “threaten the development of some energy projects, negatively impact jobs and weaken our energy infrastructure.” How does this square with your rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline?
Gov. Romney, you have criticized the federal government's direct involvement in student loans, yet the program is estimated to save the government more than $60 billion over the next decade. Why end it?
President Obama, you have consistently opposed a program that provides vouchers for about 1,600 children in the District of Columbia to attend private school. Why deny children in failing schools the opportunities your daughters have?
Gov. Romney, ensuring that children are school-ready is an important element of later success. Your education plan is silent on early childhood education. You said recently that having one parent who “can be at home in those early years of education can be extraordinarily important.” Since this is not feasible for many families, what do you propose?
President Obama, would the country be better off without teachers unions?
Gov. Romney, rather than directing funding to schools, you propose giving low-income and special-needs children vouchers to allow them to attend the school of their choice. What happens if the voucher covers only a fraction of the cost or if those schools don't have room? What happens to parents who aren't capable of getting their children to such schools? And why does your plan dismantle standards for holding low-performing schools accountable?
President Obama, your administration has granted waivers to about half the states from requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Some states, such as Virginia, are holding schools less accountable for the academic achievement of black and Hispanic students. How will that help close the achievement gap with white students?
For both: You have agreed that it is an appropriate role of government to help develop the infrastructure the economy needs to prosper. The World Economic Forum has ranked the quality of U.S. infrastructure at 24th in the world, down from fifth in 2002. How do you propose to confront this challenge — and to pay for it? How will you prioritize among various needs?
Gov. Romney, you have said you believe life begins at conception. How then do you justify an exception for abortion in cases of rape or incest? Do you support the call in the Republican Party platform for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit abortion?
President Obama, do you believe that the Constitution protects the right of gays and lesbians to marry? If not, what is the difference between discrimination on the basis of race and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?
President Obama, during the 2008 campaign you called for reinstituting the assault weapons ban. Despite the shootings in Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere, you have remained silent on gun control as president. Will that continue in a second term?
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP