What does the future hold for America’s economy if President Obama wins? What about if the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, wins?

These were the pressing questions on students’ minds as they piled into Huntsman Hall Room 345 last night, eager to hear the perspectives of two experienced MBA students on how the next president could affect the economy.

From tax policies to job creation the event moderator, Wharton professor Mark Duggan, challenged two MBA students — one Democrat and one Republican — to defend why their candidate’s various policies are best for the nation.

One of the most debated questions at the event concerned the country’s deficit. With $1.1 trillion budget deficit — which represents about $10,000 of household income in a year — Duggan asked, how might each candidate’s plan to reduce the deficit be better than his opponent’s?

“When the president took office, he was facing an unprecedented deficit left over from this predecessor” and government needed to step in, Wharton MBA student Julia Kurnik said. “President Obama has worked with the Pentagon … to identify $1 trillion in defense cuts.” In contrast, “Gov. Romney wants to spend $8 trillion on military over the next decade, which is $2 trillion more than they are actually asking for or actually need,” she said.

Kurnik was a regional field director for Obama’s 2008 campaign and the former director of policy and research for the National Women’s Business Association.

She added, for the ways Romney wants to improve the economy, the Non-Partisan Tax Policy Center has said his plans are “mathematically impossible.”

“He’ll either be adding to the deficit or he will have to tax someone,” she said.

Fellow Wharton MBA student Grant Smith, who is co-president of the Wharton Politics and Public Policy Club and a former associate at private equity fund managing firm Lexington Partners, argued otherwise.

He said President Obama has added more to the deficit in the last four years than Bush did in his two terms in office. Obama knew the state of the economy going into the election and pledged to improve it to no avail, Smith added.

In contrast, “Romney inherited a $3 billion deficit [as governor of Massachusetts] and every year he balanced his state’s budget,” Smith said. “He left with a billion dollar surplus.” This experience makes Romney the perfect man for the job, Smith concluded.

Throughout the past three weeks, the Wharton Politics and Business Association has hosted three discussions concerning Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s respective policy proposals.

Wharton junior Katie Simon, vice president of events for the Wharton Politics and Business Association, said, “It is our hope that through these discussions, we can be able to provide concise and knowledgeable discussions [so students can] gain a clear understanding of the issues facing the elections and of each presidential candidate’s stance on these issues.”

The WPBA invited Duggan, the Business Economics and Public Policy department chair, to moderate the panel because of his experience as the former senior economist for Health Care Policy at the White House. “It’s great to see the student energy around the election,” Duggan said.

The two debaters also touched on tax policy and how each candidate approaches education and poverty.

Ultimately, Kurnik hoped that students learned more about each candidate at the event. “I was really excited about the turnout,” she said. “I was glad to see so much interest.”

First-year MBA student Sean Huang said, “A big reason why I came is that I really wanted unfiltered data. I know there definitely are going to be biases on both sides … but [here people gave] us much more in depth details.”

Likewise, fellow first-year MBA student Dan Hung said, “I came here to get a better view of the issues and the candidates’ … actual platform and I think we got that.”

Duggan thought Kurnik and Smith did a good job of articulating each candidate’s policies and their potential impact on the economy, but stressed that it’s still difficult to predict how Washington will react to the next president’s actions. “To an extent, there are things that are just unknowable,” he said.

This story has been updated to correct Wharton professor Mark Duggan’s first name.

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