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Candidates’ New Economic Plans, Take 2

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain announces his new economic plan today, just after his rival, Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, grabbed headlines on Monday with his new economic plan. I would expect at Wednesday night’s debate to hear the two argue over their new economic plans. As opposed to their old ones, of course.

With a credit crisis that deepens and changes in scope almost daily, you can’t blame candidates for trying out new ways to address the country’s problems. But these new economic plans, coming just three weeks before the election, don’t have the feel of solutions carefully thought out to tackle complex, global difficulties for an economy on the brink.

McCain announced over the weekend he had a plan for Monday, then he didn’t, then he does, but it’s for Tuesday.

Obama included an idea for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures that his primary opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, introduced last spring, with no explanation for why it’s suddenly a good idea now. All this makes McCain and Obama seem less like statesmen and more like two candidates standing in a kitchen next to a pot of boiling water on the stove, throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.

When Clinton put forward her moratorium idea during the primary, economist Dean Baker correctly pointed out that it could lead to a wave of foreclosures as lenders would rush to take action before the moratorium. Obama’s camp says his proposal would apply only to banks that participate in the government’s $700-billion rescue package, and is meant for people who are making some payments on their mortgages, but can’t cover the full amount.

So if I’m someone struggling every month to meet my mortgage payment, wouldn’t I be slightly tempted to pay just a portion, knowing I won’t be foreclosed on, at least for 90 days? And why 90 days, anyway? Why not 95 days? Or nine months?

And what happens when the next wave of resets for adjustable rate mortgages rolls around? More moratoriums?

Today is McCain’s turn to take a crack at this, but this late in the game for both candidates, I can’t say we should expect the kind of well-thought out plans voters deserve.

Consider all that’s happening right now. We just nationalized nine banks, essentially. As Charles R. Morris points out on TWI today, the Federal Reserve in the last three weeks extended $650 billion in credit, nearly the total of the entire bailout plan. But we’re not talking about that. Instead, the candidates are quibbling over the margins of the tax code for retirement savings accounts and offering “relief” to the middle class.

It’s undignified to come up with gimmicks in the middle of a crisis. If you want to test the pasta, take out a few stands with a fork and let it cool in the strainer. Don’t take shortcuts in your kitchen.

Demand the same of your candidates.

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