This week may be the most pivotal in the 2012 presidential campaign as the White House and top Republicans unveil their plans to deal with the most pressing issue facing the country: jobs.
While there are serious disagreements about the role of government, some of the basic ideas for job creation are not that different between the two sides.
On Thursday, President Obama will make his plan known, but today it was top Republican contender"President Obama's strategy is a payphone strategy, and we're in a smartphone world," Romney said in a speech in Las Vegas. "What he's doing is stuffing quarters into the payphone and wondering why it's not working -- It's not connected, Mr. President." (watch a portion of Romney's speech at left) .
In an op-ed that appeared in USA Today this morning, the former Massachusetts governor said the unemployment rate shows a failure of Mr. Obama's leadership on the economy. However, his proposals show some common ground with the current occupant of the White House.
Romney called for lowering the corporate tax rate and wrote that "Ultimately, I will press for a total overhaul of our overly complex and inefficient system of taxation." Mr. Obama has also called for comprehensive tax reform, but the two sides differ on the rates and the level of taxes on capital gains and closing certain business loopholes.
Further, Romney pushes for the expansion of trade.
"Where President Obama left America's trade interests untended, I recognize the job-creating potential of international commerce. I will create the 'Reagan Economic Zone,' a partnership among countries committed to free enterprise and free trade," he wrote.
But the administration has negotiated and signed three major trade agreements, with Korea, Panama and Colombia and is in the process of sending them to Congress. Passing these agreements is the first issue listed on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's letter to the White House and Congress spelling out its own ideas for job creation. The Chamber says the Korea trade deal alone could mean up to 280,000 jobs created here.
Additionally, Romney, along with other top Republican candidates, have attacked the White House on energy.
"The Obama administration has severely restricted domestic energy production," wrote Romney. The Chamber agrees, saying that "almost 190,000 new jobs could be created by 2013 if permitting in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore development returned to pre-moratorium levels."
The administration has also focused on domestic energy production, but has focused its efforts on alternative sources of energy. While the administration has been slow to re-open drilling permits it issued before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it has been fervent in pushing for green energy, pushing for the expansion of solar and wind energy technology in the U.S., what they call the energy of the 21st century.
Where the big differences lie are in the role of government and regulation.
Romney, along with almost every other Republican, has decried the expansion of regulations under the Obama administration as "job killers."
"Every one of President Obama's regulations must be scrutinized, and those that unduly burden job creation must be axed," wrote Romney.
Additionally, the Romney campaign said in a fact sheet put out today that the candidate would go even further. "Mitt Romney will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama Administration has imposed on the economy," it said.
While anecdotal information suggests uncertainty may limit companies from expanding, economic research backing the claims that regulation kills jobs has yet to be fully proven. However, the White House has heard the message. Even though the major reforms of health care and financial sector (which are at the heart of the Republicans ire) are obvious non starters for the White House, the administration has proposed a government-wide review of onerous regulations that have been decades in the making, and just last week.
At the heart of the matter though, regulation is just another word for too much government. What the White House sees as government stepping in to protect the consumer and prevent another financial collapse is seen as government overreach by Republicans.
Romney makes this point in his editorial. "Tellingly, while the private sector shed 1.8 million jobs since Barack Obama took office, the federal workforce grew by 142,500, or almost 7%. A rollback is urgently required."
So Romney, along with Texas Governor Rick Perry, Representative Michele Bachmann and the entire Tea Party movement, sees too much government as a bad thing. But the White House and its allies firmly believe that government has a role in boosting the economy and in protecting consumers from predatory practices from the free market.
Additionally, many economists say that the push for restrained spending is resulting in government jobs being cut at all levels, from federal workers to teachers and firefighters paid by state and local governments. The increase in public sector layoffs is contributing to the dismal job growth as the private sector job creation isn't making up for government cuts.
Cutting government doesn't necessarily help the jobs picture, but that's not the point, in this debate. The idea of government, its role and the scope are the main disagreements between the president and his Republican opponents -- and that debate that will define the 2012 campaign."We said working folks shouldn't be taken advantage of -- so we passed tough financial reform that ended the days of taxpayer bailouts, and stopped credit card companies from gouging you with hidden fees and unfair rate hikes, and set up a new consumer protection agency with one responsibility: sticking up for you," said President Obama in a Labor Day address to Union workers in Detroit.
Following Romney's remarks today, the president's campaign team came back swinging.
"Governor Romney repackaged the same old policies that helped create the economic crisis: boosting oil company profits and allowing Wall Street to write its own rules, more tax breaks for large corporations and more tax cuts for the wealthiest while working Americans are forced to carry a greater burden," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
Where Republicans see massive government overreach on health care, the White House sees an accomplishment to help the middle class.
"We said that every family in America should have affordable, accessible health care... We got that done -- for you," said the president yesterday.
And while Mr. Obama will push for some new infrastructure spending ideas, among other ideas, in his jobs plan, the idea of more government spending and more government at all is anathema to the Republican Party.
What role government will should play in the lives of Americans is at the heart of the discussion. While many short-term ideas to jump start the economy are the same, the difference are not just based in economy theory, but in political philosophy. The role of government -- from infrastructure spending to Medicare, Social Security and education -- are at the heart of the debate that could shape the future of the country and is what is really at stake in 2012.