(Reuters) - The health of the U.S. economy has been central to the campaign for the White House, with both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney seeking to convince voters they have a plan to usher in faster growth and job creation.
The economy has struggled to break above a 2 percent annual growth rate since the 2007-09 recession and unemployment remains uncomfortably high at 7.9 percent. About 23 million Americans are either unemployed, working only part-time while hoping for full-time work, or want a job but have given up the search.
Here are Obama’s and Romney’s key plans for the economy:
Obama has said his jobs plan would strengthen American manufacturing, grow small businesses, improve the quality of education and make the country less dependent on foreign oil.
He envisions 1 million new manufacturing jobs by 2016 and more than 600,000 jobs in the natural gas sector, as well as the recruitment of 100,000 math and science teachers.
Repairing and replacing old roads, bridges, runways and schools are part of his plan to put Americans back to work. Half of the money saved from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be used to fund infrastructure projects.
Romney has promised 12 million jobs in his first term, or about 250,000 jobs a month. Economists say the economy would likely generate that amount of jobs anyway.
His plan focuses on tax reform, pushing the economy toward energy independence, cutting regulations and boosting trade, especially by reducing barriers to trade with China.
Romney says Obama has not been aggressive enough in challenging unfair Chinese trade practices and that he would use both the threat of U.S. sanctions and coordinated action with allies to force China to abide by global trade rules.
Even though the housing crisis is at the heart of the economy’s woes, Obama and Romney did not spell out detailed plans for how they would address it.
Obama has promoted efforts to help troubled borrowers refinance and benefit from record low interest rates, but his initiatives have fallen far short of their originally intended market.
He has battled the independent regulator of government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Edward DeMarco, trying to convince him to allow those mortgage finance firms to reduce principal for borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth. A quick resolution of that standoff is unlikely.
Romney said at one point in the campaign that the housing market needed to hit bottom on its own without government intervention and he has offered few clues on his likely approach to foreclosures.
Democrats and Republicans agree the government’s heavy hand in the mortgage market should be reduced, but neither candidate has outlined a plan to do so.
Obama can be expected to offer Chairman Ben Bernanke a third term should he want it, but Fed watchers believe the former Princeton professor would prefer to depart after a grueling eight years in the job. Bernanke’s term as chairman expires on January 31, 2014.
Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen is viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Bernanke and would be at least as dovish in terms of being prepared to keep monetary policy ultra-stimulative until the labor market has improved substantially.
Romney has said explicitly he would not reappoint Bernanke to a third term. Fed watchers expect whoever is chosen by Romney to be slightly more hawkish than Bernanke in terms of readiness to raise interest rates to keep inflation at bay.
Romney advisers Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw and John Taylor are all viewed as top contenders to replace Bernanke. Hubbard and Mankiw may be a bit more hawkish than the current chairman, but not much, and neither would likely start an aggressive tightening campaign the moment he arrived.
Taylor, however, has criticized the Fed’s policy stance under Bernanke as too loose.
Obama has proposed cutting the government budget deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade by allowing tax cuts for upper-income Americans enacted during the George W. Bush administration to expire and by eliminating loopholes. Half of the money saved from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be used to reduce the deficit.
Romney wants to cut marginal tax rates for individuals by 20 percent and broaden the tax base by closing loopholes. He would keep all the Bush tax cuts in place in a plan he says would be revenue-neutral. Obama has charged the numbers do not add up.
Romney has also said he wants to reduce federal spending to 20 percent of U.S. GDP over four years from its current level of about 24 percent.
Both want to reduce the corporate tax rate, although Romney would reduce it further.
Obama is seen keeping on his current path as regulators work to put in place provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. It is not known whether Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro will remain, but Obama would likely appoint a replacement who would not roll back investor protections to benefit corporations and financial firms.
Romney has pledged to repeal the entire law. But policy experts see that as a largely hollow campaign pledge because a wholesale repeal would be politically unpopular and Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate.
Instead, they see Romney working with Congress to craft narrowly tailored bills targeting what Republicans see as the biggest problem spots: the Volcker rule’s ban on proprietary trading, the impact on end-user companies of derivatives reforms and the continued existence of too-big-to-fail financial firms.
Romney would also like to curb the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by that legislation.
Reporting By Lucia Mutikani, Alister Bull, Doug Palmer, Margaret Chadbourn and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Todd Eastham