Candidates' Advisers Outline Economic Priorities
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now, if you're in one of those more than 20 states with contests on Tuesday, you have just a few days left to mull over your options. And we aim to help you with that. We've called the top economic advisers for the four leading contenders and asked them one simple question. What would be your candidate's number one economic priority if he or she were to win a term as president of the United States?
We'll start with the Democrats. Senator Barack Obama's top economic adviser is Austan Goolsby.
Mr. AUSTAN GOOLSBY (Obama Economic Adviser): Well, I'd say the first priority has got to be dealing with the potential slowdown that we're facing, if it is continuing into January of '09. But that slowdown isn't random. It's really the culmination of some of the factors that he's been pointing out that have developed over the last seven years.
Mainly the squeeze on the middle class with incomes of three-quarters of America stagnant, while the costs of healthcare, energy, college education rising, has really put a pinch and left it with no margin for error. So I'd say aiming at that squeeze is probably his first priority.
SEABROOK: And what does that mean he would do first?
Mr. GOOLSBY: First direct substantial middle class tax relief and tax relief for working people - up to $1,000 a family. And then get a comprehensive healthcare reform that could get the uninsured covered and get the cost down for people who do have insurance.
SEABROOK: Austan Goolsby of the Obama campaign. Now to Senator Hilary Clinton, Gene Sperling is her senior economic advisor.
Mr. GENE SPERLING (Clinton Economic Adviser): I think priority number one is passing a healthcare plan that would provide coverage for all Americans, and at the same time help reform the health insurance system so that we're bringing down cost and providing quality. That is the first economic priority, and let me explain why - because this is more important to so many Americans' economic security.
People who are worried about losing jobs, worry about their healthcare coverage. A lot of the reason why the typical American family is dealing with stagnant wages - even declining wages by 1,000, over $1,000 since 2000 - is party because the rising cost of healthcare is eating into their wages and their salaries.
SEABROOK: If that's number one, what is number two?
Mr. SPERLING: Well, I guess the right to say is that Senator Clinton believes that is the number one long-term issue to focus on, on day one. Obviously, when you're president, you have to deal with the hand you're dealt. And one of the big issues will be is where is our housing crisis on January 1st, 2009?
SEABROOK: Gene Sperling, senior economic adviser with the Clinton campaign.
You probably caught the similarities between the two Democrats. Obama's adviser put the current economic slowdown at number one and healthcare reform at number two, while Clinton's adviser did just the opposite - healthcare and number one and the slowdown at number two.
Now to the Republican side. Vin Weber is policy chairman - that's a volunteer position - for former Governor Mitt Romney.
Mr. VIN WEBER (Romney Policy Chairman): I think his first economic priority would be to, if it's not completed, complete the free trade agreements that are on the table. I think his second priority would be to seek to make permanent the Bush tax cuts. The reality is if we don't make permanent Bush tax cuts we're going to see a dramatic tax increase from the rates that people have been paying for several years.
SEABROOK: Let's circle that first...
Mr. WEBER: The governor has...
SEABROOK: ...thing, the completing the free trade agreements. Why is that so important that it is the first priority?
Mr. WEBER: Well, we're sort of at risk of losing momentum on free trade going forward. So if we're not moving to open up markets around the world to American products we're going to be moving in the other direction toward a greater protectionism across the planet. And history tells us that's just not a good thing for American workers or consumers.
SEABROOK: Vin Weber of the Romney campaign. Now to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the senior policy adviser to Senator John McCain.
Mr. DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN (McCain Policy Adviser): His first priority is to bring federal spending under control. He would impose, on the Congress, a requirement of zero earmarks and special interest treks in spending bills. Any bill that arrive on his desk with those projects would be vetoed.
He would then move to a fundamental reform of our entitlements through a combination of healthcare reform and demanding that Congress take on the clear and transparent problems of Social Security. And he would demand that we rise above politics and fix Social Security.
SEABROOK: McCain's senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin. We contacted the Huckabee campaign but it did not provide us with an adviser.
So to recap what we learned: Mitt Romney's first priority is completing free trade agreements. His second is making President Bush's tax cuts permanent. Number one for John McCain is clamping down on government spending and earmarks. Second on McCain's list is reforming entitlement programs. That's Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
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