Voters need to hear more on how the bailout will affect the next president's priorities.
Kudos to debate moderator Jim Lehrer for questioning the presidential candidates – four times – about how the proposed $700 billion financial bailout will affect their choices and priorities. And modest applause to the candidates for their response. But voters need to hear much more from them on this subject.
This megarescue shifts the ground under both men. Even if the US Treasury spends just half of the expected bailout in fiscal year 2009, that will come on top of a forecast record federal deficit of $438 billion. Combined with funds pledged for other mortgage-related rescues, the deficit could approach $1 trillion. When considered as a percentage of the economy, that shortfall would rival the historic deficits of the Reagan era.
Yet last week, both campaigns said they were sticking by their campaign proposals (tax cuts, healthcare, etc.) – plans forged back when they were seeking their parties' nominations. Their unwillingness to adjust looked shortsighted, but was perhaps understandable as Washington itself was unsure of what to do and needed all of last week to work out a solution. As John McCain and Barack Obama stood at debate lecterns Sept. 26, they showed more flexibility.
Under Mr. Lehrer's persistent questioning, Democratic candidate Senator Obama admitted that "a range of things" are "probably going to have to be delayed" and that "we're not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done."