The Republican and Democratic national conventions are behind us — probably to the relief of many Americans.
Naturally, speeches by the key candidates — Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — earned greatest attention. Though Clint Eastwood and his empty chair got some headlines as well.
What did not receive much attention were the party platforms, except for the Democrats eliminating and then re-admitting God, to the boos of some delegates, in their platform. Many in the media, and even various candidates, simply assume that platforms don’t matter.
But platforms do matter. They provide a guide, assembled by party activists and faithful, as to what each party stands for on a host of issues. Those positions generally reflect what elected officials and candidates from that party favor and oppose, albeit with some exceptions along the way. After all, why be a Democrat if you’re opposed to what the Democratic Party proclaims through its platform, with the same going for Republicans?
In fact, the Republican document opens: “The 2012 Republican Platform is a statement of who we are and what we believe as a party and our vision for a stronger and freer America.” Meanwhile, in the Democrats’ platform, it is stated: “This election is not simply a choice between two candidates or two political parties, but between two fundamentally different paths for our country and our families.”
Both platforms, unsurprisingly, embrace small business. The Democratic platform declares, “Small businesses employ half of all working Americans, and, over the last two decades, have created two out of three net new jobs. Democrats believe that small businesses are the engine of job growth in America.” Meanwhile, the Republican platform states: “America’s small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, employing tens of millions of workers… Small businesses are the leaders in the world’s advances in technology and innovation, and we pledge to strengthen that role and foster small business entrepreneurship.”
But beyond grand declarations, what specifics on policies affecting the economy and small business do these platforms offer? Let’s consider three key areas: taxes, trade and energy.
On taxes, the Republican platform calls for extending the current tax code in order to avoid tax increases scheduled for 2013, and then reforming the system. Specifically, the platform calls for reducing marginal income tax rates by 20 percent across the board; eliminating taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for “lower and middle- income taxpayers;” ending the death tax; repealing both the individual and corporate alternative minimum taxes; and lowering the corporate income tax rate to make it more competitive globally.
As for the Democrats, they support extending the current tax system for “American families who make less than $250,000 a year,” raising taxes on wealthier taxpayers, tax reform that includes the Buffet Rule (i.e., no upper-income taxpayer would pay less than 30 percent of earnings in income taxes), and “reforming the corporate tax code to lower tax rates for companies in the United States, with additional relief for those locating manufacturing and research and development on our shores, while closing loopholes and reducing incentives for corporations to shift jobs overseas.”
So, regarding taxes, the Republicans tend to be more focused on broad- based relief, and the Democrats on a more select, class-based agenda.
On trade, the Republicans call for restoring Trade Promotion Authority for the president, ensuring “up or down votes in Congress on any new trade agreements, without meddling by special interests.” In addition, the GOP platform calls for completing a Trans-Pacific Partnership “to open rapidly developing Asian markets to U.S. products.” The platform also talks of the need to protect U.S. intellectual property. Traces of protectionism are found in bashing China for so-called currency manipulation, and with threats to retaliate.
As for the Democratic platform, it also talks about “vigorously protecting U.S. intellectual property — our technology and creativity — at home and abroad,” while mentioning the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well. At the same time, the platform emphasizes “ensuring that workers’ rights and environmental standards are upheld,” which are buzz phrases for protectionist policies that impose U.S. regulatory policies on our trading partners.
So, the Republican platform leans more free trade than the Democrats’ does, though both, thankfully, emphasize the importance of protecting intellectual property.
As for energy, both parties claim an “all of the above” strategy, but emphasis and details actually are very different. For example, the Republican platform points out that coal “is a low-cost and abundant energy source with hundreds of years of supply,” pledges to “end the EPA’s war on coal,” and opposes “any and all cap and trade legislation.” The GOP also calls for opening offshore and onshore areas to oil and natural gas exploration, and approving the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian and American oil to U.S. refineries.
Meanwhile, and unfortunately, the Democratic platform is simply quite vague on energy, largely resorting to “clean energy” rhetoric over policy specifics.
In tough economic times, it’s particularly important to understand what each party stands for and emphasizes on key economic issues.
Cutting through the political rhetoric and spin, it turns out that the Republican platform, though not ideal, is more detailed on economic matters, and ranks more pro-growth, pro-small business than does the Democratic platform.
— Raymond J. Keating, chief economist, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.