# On Point | Analysis and Insight from Top Thinkers at the University of South Florida

On Ryan’s Acceptance Speech

2012 August 30
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by Vickie Chachere

When assessing a speech by a vice presidential nominee, including its potential impact, it is important to keep in mind that in the history of American politics, at least since the end of WW II, only one vice presidential candidate possibly had an impact on an election.  In 1960 it is unlikely that John F. Kennedy would have won as many southern states as he did, and in particular Texas, without Lyndon B. Johnson on the ticket.  That said, the vice presidential nominee’s speech is unlikely to convince many voters to vote for one presidential nominee rather than another.

There are two things the VP nominee’s speech can and should do.  First, it can “energize the base,” a phrase that has become almost a cliché.  It can encourage turnout among doubtful or reluctant party members.  The challenge that Ryan faced is answering the question, which base is that?  Lately, pundits have been inclined to identify the Tea Party as the base of the Republican Party.  But recent comments by Todd Akin and numerous other Republican candidates about legitimate/forcible rape have led some Republicans, who may think of themselves as moderates, to distance themselves from the effort to exclude some forms of rape from the category of “real” or “legitimate” or “forcible” rape.  Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass) is one such candidate, although his votes against women on a range of other issues hardly qualify him as a profile in courage within his own party.  So the following question emerges: “Is the Tea Party, a radically right wing element proudly opposed to any compromise whatsoever, the base or are there competing factions who can claim that mantle?”  Complicating the dilemma for the Republicans is the fact that recent research by Robert Putnam (Harvard) and David Cambell (Notre Dame) has demonstrated that out of 32 significant groups and/or individuals, the Tea Party is last in approval ratings among registered voters.  Muslims, gays and lesbians, atheists, Barak Obama, the NRA and numerous other groups/individuals had higher approval ratings when Putnam and Cambell conducted their research last year.

read more…

The “Verbal Tightrope”

2012 August 30
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by Vickie Chachere

The Washington Times takes an interesting look at the social media risks of convention speeches, turning to Wayne Garcia, a longtime Florida journalist and political consultant who now teaches journalism at USF. The Times writes:

“I think the speeches matter if they are stunning. If they are middling or terrible, I don’t think they make a whole lot of difference,” said Tampa, Fla., political consultant and writer Wayne Garcia, who teaches at the University of South Florida.

“For Mitt Romney, his speech is critical. He has the opportunity to change the narrative and get it off of his past and his wealth. It will either launch him into the next level and get him out of the swamp he is in, or he’ll fail miserably and get him into more trouble. But even if he has as a terrible speech, he’s not dead. He just has to work that much harder.”

Read more: Social media voices help shape images of convention speakers – Washington Times

Party On!

2012 August 30
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by Vickie Chachere

Salon.com writer David Sirota has an interesting opinion piece today that takes a different look at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Sirota zoomed in a quote from USF St. Petersburg Political Science Professor Seth McKee on what viewers and voters might not realize about the party’s big party. He writes:

“If people knew that the money was being used to pay for liquor (and) parties … they would not be too pleased,” University of South Florida political expert Dr. Seth McKee told Tampa’s local NBC affiliate. Those expenses include “more than $250,000 for social media services, $150,000 for website services, $215,000 for travel, and $42,000 for meetings/catering/beverages.”

The report – actually on CBS’ Tampa  affiliate WTSP – interestingly points out that the parties are able to use the fund through the $1 taxpayers direct to political campaign funding on their tax returns.  Good to know.

Southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi gulf coast – I have my “eye” on you

2012 August 28
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by collinsjm

While all but the furthest outer bands of Isaac have left the Tampa region, the heavy rainfall from the hurricane has resulted in Flood Warnings for multiple rivers in the area that may take a few days to subside. All eyes are now on southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi gulf coast as the cyclone approaches landfall overnight tonight, likely as a Category 1 hurricane.  While the winds are not as high as previously forecast, currently at 75 mph, Isaac remains a threat with storm surge along the direct shoreline and potential for substantial inland flooding. Between the large size and decreased forward speed of Isaac, isolated areas in Louisiana could see rainfall totals in excess of 15 inches over the next two days. After landfall Isaac will weaken back to tropical storm and then tropical depression status, but is forecast to bring less heavy and very much welcome rainfall to drought stricken areas in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Today’s assessment comes from USF’s PhD student David Roache who studies tropical weather with USF hurricane expert Jennifer Collins. Roache is  co-author on two papers with Dr. Collins and award recipient of two Association of American Geographers Climate Specialty Group Student Paper Awards, 2010 and 2011, 1st place for the Graduate Student Paper of the Florida Society of Geographers’ Conference 2011 and the West Central Florida Chapter of the AMS Dewey Stowers Award, 2011.


Tropical Strorm Isaac – What’s Next

2012 August 27
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by collinsjm

A 10am update from Dr. Jennifer Collins (8/27/2012)


Here in Tampa, we are quite a distance away from center of Isaac but already we have seen some flooding in parts of Tampa for example at Dale Mabry and Neptune, but that water has receded. The tornado watch in Tampa has expired at the time of writing (10am). We are no longer in the watch because the outer rain bands passed us, but that does not exclude a new tornado watch from happening later as these rain bands MAY get pulled back into Tampa as the storm moves away from us further. Climatologically, tornadoes spawned from hurricane landfalls typically occur in the afternoon or evening hours so another tornado watch cannot be ruled out later in the day. Overall later today we may see isolated tornadoes as well as thunderstorms, lightning and heavy rain, from intermittent outer banding which was on the east side of the state this morning, with more localized flooding possible. We have not yet had sustained TS force winds (39 mph or greater). So far we have had a northeast wind which has shifted to east in the last couple of hours. These winds have been offshore, and I expect only minimal coastal surge in the Tampa Bay area – 2 ft, and even then, there is a low probability even of this. I don’t expect any major surge as Isaac is tracking further offshore than previously forecast. Surge in Tampa is no longer a story and will not affect the Convention Center, but risk of significant surge along the Northern Gulf Coast is high. Total rainfall in the last 6 hours at Tampa International Airport was 1.74”.

We should be clear in Tampa by tomorrow morning. The NHC has the center being latitudinally adjacent to us in the middle of the night tonight (2am) based on the 8am forecast. Remember, even though it may be at the same latitude, it will still be far out in the Gulf. Isaac is nowhere near as close to Tampa as was forecast 2 days ago. I believe it was absolutely the right call the RNC made to delay by one day (as well as USF to close USF today to non-essential personnel and students) due to possible tornadic activity this afternoon. With landfall expected along the Northern Gulf Coast, here in Tampa we expect rainfall and winds here for the next day. By tomorrow, we may return to our typical summertime pattern, afternoon thunderstorms particularly, as Isaac moves away.

The track from NHC shows it coming right in at New Orleans. Remember though the cone shows other track possibilities and that everyone within the cone is at risk.  Katrina was not an absolute worst case scenario for New Orleans due to its trajectory from south to north. The maximum surge from Katrina was not in New Orleans, but along the Mississippi coastline. Isaac is coming from southeast to northwest which could drive the surge right up Lake Pontchartrain, which is the worst case scenario “IF” it intensifies further. New Orleans could get inundated if the storm intensifies beyond the current 8am forecast.

Landfall is expected along the Northern Gulf Coast, with the models consolidating on hitting southeast Louisiana (though everyone should consider the cone of possibilities). The question really is the INTENSITY. The model which has been consistently showing the strongest hit is the HWRF with a Category 3 at landfall (yesterday it forecast even stronger) with the right front quadrant coming in at Lake Pontchartrain. Atmospheric and ocean conditions are conducive for intensification – warm sea surface temperature, lower wind shear, strong upper level outflow. However, most models have it as a strong Category 1, and the NHC forecast has it making landfall at 90 mph – a high end Category 1 hurricane (based on the 8am forecast). It could be stronger with further development of the inner core. Recent GFDL model runs have Isaac tracking further west towards the Louisiana/Texas border, and doesn’t have it strengthen into a hurricane at all. This is unreasonable in my opinion. Since yesterday evening the models have mostly come into closer agreement, where before the models showed more spread for possible landfall locations. While we have a WNW track at 14 mph,  NHC says that “a turn toward the northwest is expected by Tuesday. On the forecast track… the center of Isaac will move over the eastern Gulf of Mexico today and approach the northern gulf coast in the hurricane warning area on Tuesday”.

Isaac could make landfall in Louisiana, seven years to the day from Katrina, but it is expected the storm could be quite different.  The southeast to northwest trajectory is the text book case to bring maximum surge into New Orleans with the direct impact of the right front quadrant of the storm. So IF it were to intensify to a major hurricane, it could be more dangerous than Katrina. If it was to stay weak or weaken, it may not be too bad. We expect landfall Wednesday morning. There could be a sizeable amount of moisture and energy associated with it, so we could remain tracking it for one to three days. It is worth noting that the remnants of Ivan in 2004, for example, continued to put tornadoes on ground until three days after landfall.

My advice: If evacuation order occurs for the Northern Gulf States, heed it and get out of the way.

When it comes to politics, how social are social media users?

2012 August 27
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by Vickie Chachere

We all know that talking politics at the dinner table can be dicey social behavior. But what about talking politics on social media? Kelli Burns, a USF associate professor of mass communications and a social media expert, has explored how social media users feel about bringing politics into that medium. Some say this election will be fought out on Twitter and facebook. This is what she found:

The full potential of social media is achieved when users not only effectively disseminate messages to their followers, but also inspire their followers to share messages within their networks. The presidential campaigns of 2012 are tapping into this power by creating presences on Facebook and Twitter, building networks of friends and followers, and distributing content that can be passed along from these friends and followers into their extensive networks.

I conducted a small study to explore social media behavior of voters, specifically to understand whether voters were following the candidates, sharing campaign content, and talking about the campaign online. Furthermore, I was interested in attitudes toward political discussion and sharing that occurs in social networks and attitudes that might potentially hinder the sharing process. I used my own networks on Twitter and Facebook to survey 124 respondents between July 17 and August 19, 2012. The sample can be described in the following way: it had more women (74%) than men (26%); the majority were Floridians (62%); the sample was almost evenly distributed into three age groups of 18-24 (32%), 25-34 (29%), and 35-44 (28%); and the highest percentage of respondents were Democrats (43%), followed by Republicans (30%) and Independents (16%). Almost 93% said they were registered to vote, and 90% said they planned to vote. Slightly more than 82% said they had already decided  the candidate they would support in the election.

Slightly more than 28% of respondents follow a candidate on Facebook and the same percentage follow a candidate on Twitter.  Almost 90% of respondents have noticed political discussion on Facebook. When it comes to their own profiles, slightly more than 26% have shared political content that was created by a campaign or someone else, such as a photo, video, or graphic. More than 33% have posted a status update about the 2012 election or a candidate on Facebook and slightly more than 16% have tweeted about the election or a candidate. Almost 45% have commented or liked a friend’s Facebook post about the election or a candidate.

A high percentage of respondents (46.4%) either strongly or somewhat agreed that the political information they have seen on social media sites has been helpful in learning about the candidates and their views. Many respondents (43.9%) either strongly or somewhat agreed they have
been disappointed to learn through social media sites that certain friends do not support a candidate they support. Almost 42% either strongly or somewhat agreed that they don’t like to see posts from friends about a candidate they don’t support.

A lower percentage (30.1%) either strongly or somewhat agreed that they would worry what people would think of them if they posted on social media sites about a candidate their friends don’t support. Only 27% either strongly or somewhat agreed that they like to share political views on Facebook, even though 66% either strongly or somewhat disagreed that social media is not a place for political discussion.

Sharing Politics on Social Media

The data revealed some interesting trends when answers from the 37 Republican and 52 Democrat respondents were compared (see chart).

Overall, Democrats were more active than Republicans in following and posting about candidates and the election. They were also more concerned with finding out a friend supported another candidate and what friends would think if they posted about a candidate their friends did not support. Finally, there were differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of the usefulness of the information they see on social media sites about the election, with more Democrats than Republicans noticing useful information.

The presidential campaigns of 2012 have embraced social media and are leveraging its power to attempt to turn followers into voters. People need to feel comfortable with sharing political content and opinions in social media for it to reach its full potential for presidential campaigns. These data show high recognition and perceived usefulness of political discussion and content on social media sites with a lower, yet still encouraging, prevalence of following candidates and commenting, liking, and posting about candidates and the election. Some voters, particularly Democrats, have been disappointed by the postings of others and may hold back because they worry about the opinions of others.

Social media is a new phenomenon in politics, but its a powerful new medium fraught with pitfalls. It’s clearly changing the way a new generation shares political ideas, and it’s important for researchers to chart how these changes alter how we relate to each other in real life.


“Watch”ing the Tampa Bay Area

2012 August 25
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by collinsjm

This evening’s assessment comes from USF PhD student David Roache who studies tropical weather with USF hurricane expert Jennifer Collins, who is making preparations in case she deploys a faculty and student team for a hurricane research project related to Isaac.  Roache is  co-author on two papers with Dr. Collins and award recipient of two Association of American Geographers Climate Specialty Group Student Paper Awards, 2010 and 2011, 1st place for the Graduate Student Paper of the Florida Society of Geographers’ Conference 2011 and the West Central Florida Chapter of the AMS Dewey Stowers Award, 2011.

 A tropical storm watch is now in effect for the Tampa Bay area, indicating that tropical storm conditions (with sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are possible within the next 48 hours.  Currently located off the northern shore of eastern Cuba, Isaac remains a strong tropical storm with 60 mph maximum sustained winds.  Moving to the northwest, Isaac is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane as it impacts the Florida Keys and enters the Gulf of Mexico.

While a direct landfall on Tampa is unlikely, as the area lies just outside the eastern edge of the cone, this does not mean that Isaac will pass by without impact.  The outer bands of the cyclone may begin to reach the area as soon as Sunday evening, bringing with them gusty winds, heavy rainfall and the risk of isolated tornadoes.  As such, all preparations for the storm should be completed by Sunday afternoon at the latest.  As the center passes by to the west on Monday, tropical storm conditions will continue, and both inland and coastal flooding is possible – the former from the forecast 5-8” of rainfall and the latter from localized storm surges on the order of 4-7’.

The final landfall of Isaac is presently forecast to occur in the Florida panhandle, but could be as far west as New Orleans, LA.  A more westerly track may result in a shorter duration of tropical storm conditions in our local region, but due to the large size of the storm Tampa will not go untouched by Isaac.  It is also worth noting that environmental conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are conducive for Isaac to possibly undergo a period of rapid intensification, which would result in the cyclone becoming much stronger than currently forecast.  See Dr. Collins’ previous post about rapid intensification. Such a scenario on Monday and Tuesday bears watching for all those with interests along the northern Gulf coast.







Isaac’s Track

2012 August 24
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by Vickie Chachere

USF hurricane expert Jennifer Collins continues her watch on Isaac as it continues its track toward the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s her latest assessment after today’s storm movement. Check out the USF Weather Center for more information.

 Isaac continues to be a tropical storm, South Florida and the Florida keys have now received their first tropical storm watch. Depending on changes in
intensity of the system, this may be upgraded to a hurricane watch. Even without a direct hit, for us in Tampa, we are likely to experience at least tropical storm strength winds if it continues on its forecast track to possibly make landfall Tuesday afternoon in the panhandle.

With that track, by Monday afternoon here in Tampa the outer bands of the storm are likely to be in the area. We could see heavy rainfall (contributing to flooding of the already saturated soils), gusty winds as well as potential tornadic activity associated with mini-supercells. Of course, I would like to emphasize again that one should focus on the entire cone for a possible landfall and Tampa is still included within that. A tropical storm watch is likely to be issued for the Tampa Bay area tomorrow. Some of the members of the GFS model ensembles still forecast the storm to travel up the peninsula, so direct landfall to South Florida or Tampa cannot be ruled out.

Tonight Haiti prepares for a tropical storm landfall, not the hurricane strength impact forecast a couple of days ago. This could still be particularly devastating for a country with some of its population living in tents after the recent earthquake.

Let’s all take a moment to remember that it was 20 years ago today, Hurricane Andrew made landfall at Homestead, FL. as a Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph maximum sustained winds. We owe our better preparedness to the lessons learned from that catastrophe and those who suffered in it.

National Hurricane Center map shows Isaac's tracks toward the Gulf of Mexico


Eye on the Storm

2012 August 23
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by Vickie Chachere

USF hurricane expert Jennifer Collins is tracking Tropical Storm Isaac. Here’s her latest assessment of the situation:

With the RNC coming to town, the nation is particularly focused on whether a hurricane will impact Florida. At this time, 20 years ago, we were also wondering if we would  see a Florida landfall. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane soon before crossing through the Bahamas.  As it moved over the Bahamas, the system weakened slightly and then re- intensified into a Category 5 hurricane on August 24 before making landfall and devastating Homestead, Florida.  Andrew happened in an inactive hurricane season, which goes to show that no matter whether the seasonal forecast storm count indicates that it will be an active or inactive hurricane  season, it only takes one!

This season has been quite interesting to date.  The season started early with two storms in May, prior to the official start of the  hurricane season.  Now we have tropical storms Isaac and Joyce we are tracking.

However, we are not out the woods for sure. Even with these models, we are still in the NHC forecast cone of uncertainty, and then one also has to consider the size of the storm even if the path is west of us.  With Florida’s saturated soils currently, there is still a chance that we will have some significant impact from this system. Furthermore, it is worth noting that while most models are in agreement, there are still a couple that still take the system right up the FL peninsula. If it runs up the western coastline, we are also at an enhanced risk of tornadoes in the outer bands.  Regarding the intensity of this storm in the next couple of days, I think this will be harder to predict partly due to land interaction and its effect on the system. Remember the 2005 season? There were many storms including Katrina, Rita and Wilma which  intensified rapidly. Wilma dropped nearly 100 mb in a day to reach the record low pressure on record in the N. Atlantic.  So let’s keep our ‘eye’ on this  storm.  Joyce – not much to worry about for Florida.

Visit the USF Weather Center for more information and listings for USF faculty hurricane experts.

Romney’s Selection of Rep. Ryan Draws Battle Line in Fiscal Policy

2012 August 22
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Mitt Romney’s selection of U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate has apparently helped to not only generate renewed interest in  the Ryan-authored budget resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, but also  to draw the battle line with regard to America’s fiscal policy in this presidential campaign. The battle line is based on the President’s budget submitted to Congress in February 2012 and the above-mentioned budget resolution. Despite their different fiscal paths, reviews of both budgets reveal each of them has inherent weaknesses but, from policy perspective, either plan will have significant impact on the deficit. The key difference is  Rep. Ryan’s budget plan being achieved through more dramatic deficit reduction in the near term.

While the President’s budget is very detailed and includes the recommendations on deficit reduction made to the “Super Committee” last year, it relies on internal White House economic assumptions which may not be as robust as those of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  Rep. Ryan’ budget plan reflects CBO’s economic assumptions, but the plan is in the form of annual congressional budget resolution, which typically includes few specifics and projects top-line revenue levels and spending by functional category. This lack of detail enables Rep. Ryan to escape scrutiny as to the specific impact of his budget plan on many Americans. Additionally, both plans only achieve modest savings in Medicare and Social Security within the next decade, even though these are two of the three programs that contribute significantly to the federal deficit. These weaknesses notwithstanding, law makers can work together to bridge the differences in both plans to help cure America’s fiscal ailment. The following are how the two plans compare based on information from diverse sources, including the Bipartisan Policy Center.

On the budget deficit, Rep. Ryan’s plan calls for reduction from the current 7.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 4% in 2014, and 0.9% by 2017, while the President’s plan calls for a reduction to 3.9% and 3% respectively. Both plans call for increase in revenue by 2013, due mainly to the scheduled expiration of the payroll tax cut, but the President’s proposal aims at allowing the tax cuts on household income over $250,000 to expire and would impose new limitations on tax deductions and exclusions for upper-income taxpayers.

Rep. Ryan’s plan will replace the current individual income tax rates with two rates: 10% and 25%; lower the corporate income tax from 35% to 25%; and make it easier for multinational corporations to reduce their tax liability on foreign profits.  The President’s plan calls for an increase in the top-tier individual tax rate from 36% to 39.6%; and a reduction of the corporate income tax rate to 28%.

In the area of spending, Rep. Ryan’s plan aims at reversing the President’s planned defense cuts and appropriating $554 billion for defense in fiscal 2013. The plan will  reduce overall government spending by 1.2% and 1.3% of GDP in fiscal 2013 and 2014 respectively, in spite of the fact that it will reverse most of the cuts planned under “sequestration” in 2013 and spread other cuts over 10 years. The President’s budget assumes that the sequester is not implemented, and his spending cuts are modest compare to Ryan’s.

On Medicare, Rep. Ryan’s plan calls for the gradual raising of the eligibility age to 67 and giving those younger than 55 years the chance to opt out and participate in a federally supervised private voucher system. It also calls for significant changes in the structure of Medicare but this will not take effect until after the 10 year window Congress uses to evaluate fiscal policy. The President’s plan will leave the current system largely unchanged but will raise premiums or copays for the top income earners.  While the Ryan plan calls for turning Medicaid into a Block grant for the states, allowing them the flexibility in how much coverage they offer their residents and whom they cover, the President’s plan would keep it as is because his planned expansion of Medicaid was struck down in the Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Given these differences, the question is which of the two budget plans is better for America?

In an independent study that compares the fiscal paths under Rep. Ryan’s budget plan and the President’s proposal, relative to an extension of current fiscal policy, the Goldman Sachs Global Economics Research team concluded that both budget plans would reduce the deficit significantly relative to current policy. A review of the study findings shows the President’s budget would nearly eliminate the primary deficit (spending excluding interest expense would be nearly equal to
revenues),  by 2018 while Rep. Ryan’s plan will would achieve a primary balance by 2015 and a primary surplus by 2018. It also reveals that compared with current policy, both proposals would impose greater fiscal restraint in 2013 and 2014, that revenues would rise under both proposals in 2013, but would keep rising under the President’s budget, and that spending would come down more quickly under the Ryan budget.

Although both plans could have significant impact on the deficit, it is clear that Rep.  Ryan’s plan is the boldest attempt at deficit reduction currently on the table. Despite the limitations in his plan, Rep. Ryan should be given credit for his courageous effort at addressing the deficit. Our nation’s fiscal problems are serious ones that call for bold leadership on both sides of the political divide. However, as indicated above, the issue with the Ryan plan is that it is short on specifics. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center projects the revenue loss from the Ryan plan to be $4.3 trillion over the next decade, although this is partially offset by about $1.7 trillion in spending cuts. Given Rep. Ryan’s  goal to reverse the President’s planned defense cuts, most reasonable minds would agree that most of his savings would come out of basic federal services such as transportation, assistance to the poor, education and social services. For example, his proposed Medicaid changes are projected to save around $800 billion, and the cuts in food stamps could save roughly $130 billion.

Rep. Ryan’s plan aims at eliminating tax shelters and other upper-class tax benefits to help make up for the revenue shortfall. However,  the Bipartisan Policy Center has indicated that to fill the revenue gap, the entire tax code will need to eliminate nearly every exemption, including dependent exemptions, child tax credit, education credits and mortgage deduction credits. These exemptions, together with the reductions in Medicaid and food stamps, form key aspects of the battle line in fiscal policy when it comes to this year’s presidential campaign. The President will obviously argue getting rid of these credits and the safety net for the vulnerable will cause undue hardships on many Americans and further weaken an already fragile recovery. One clear issue though is our political system is such that compromises will be necessary for a more balanced approach especially if the Democrats retain the White House or even the U.S. Senate. No matter who takes control of Congress and the White House in the November elections, policy makers have the obligation to  work together to restore sanity in our nation’s fiscal policy by taking the best from both budget plans. A key to fiscal sanity is for both sides to be bolder and take serious steps to dramatically slow the growth of entitlements in order to restore the fiscal competitiveness of our country.