Republican presidential candidates

At various points in the past three months, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Godfather's Pizza magnate Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have all played front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Their various missteps along the way, however, have made it unclear whether any of them actually wants the job or would ever affect the economy in any tangible way. Indeed, Cain, a former front-runner, has shown his commitment by "suspending" his presidential bid.

Economic game plans such as Romney's vow to decrease the corporate tax to 25%, open free trade to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and cut all nondefense spending by 5% are just plans right now. But that's just fine by current front-runner Gingrich, the only candidate who can boast -- with varying degrees of correctness -- about his role in passing multiple balanced budgets.

The economists' grade: D- (two gave grades and two gave an "incomplete")

Why: Frank sees them bringing to the table "absolutely nothing. They have nothing to propose" and being so "ideologically blind to the way the economy works that it frightens me that any one of them might be in power."

The managers' grade: C

Why: Three gave grades and one gave an "incomplete." Nolte and Pavlik agree the candidates lack cohesive programs to fix things. Hodges sees the candidates as flawed but having "some very pro-business policies, especially when it comes to energy and infrastructure things, especially tax policies" and Auxier likes that they're "offering solutions besides raising taxes."

The advocates' grade: C- (four gave grades and one gave an "incomplete")

Why: Van Slyke says too many members "fight for the 1%." Moss loves the spotlight put by Cain and Perry on simplifying the tax code and hopes Gingrich and Romney pick up the theme.


Gridlock in Congress is not new, but the 112th U.S. Congress brought the cacophony to a new level. It began in January with a petty disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the reading of a modified version of the U.S. Constitution. By April, there was a real possibility of a government shutdown and 800,000 furloughed government employees as the two sides bickered. A deal was struck at the eleventh hour, but only after a one-week deadline extension to allow more bickering.

Congress' ineptitude truly took the spotlight in July and August during the debt-ceiling negotiations. With the threat of a U.S. default running up against concern over the ballooning debt levels, Democrats and Republicans took the debate all the way to the Aug. 2 deadline, which is when the Treasury estimated its borrowing ability would have been depleted. Even though an agreement was forged, the brinkmanship in Congress resulted in a downgrade of U.S. debt by Standard & Poor's, the first time the U.S. has lost a prestigious triple-A rating in history.

In the aftermath, a 12-member committee was formed as part of the August budget control act. The so-called supercommittee was tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions to be made over a 10-year period -- and despite roughly two months to complete the job, failed.

The economists' grade: D- (four gave grades)

Why: Powell and Parker see Congress taking the country down the same path as bankrupt countries in Europe. "I think Congress deserves an 'F' and I suspect most of the American people feel that way," Frank says.

The managers' grade: D (all five gave grades)

Why: Four were largely horrified by Congress -- in fact, Dailey says the houses have notched a "horrific year" from a policy and leadership perspective, participating in "blatant political posturing." Pavlik says that "if my employer assigned me a task, I'd be out of work if I didn't complete it."

The advocates' grade: C- (four gave grades)

Why: Van Slyke summed up her grade in the single, recurring word: "gridlock." Elliott asked "Have they done anything?" Morran saw signs of actual anti-consumer sentiment (including the roadblocks thrown in the path of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).