Let’s have a real fight about deficits if it leads to real answers

by Michael Smith.

In a letter to the Washington Post this week, I pointed out that the national debt has been a bipartisan project. The only real disagreement between the parties has centered on how to spend borrowed money.

The taming of the debt—assuming our politicians don’t wait for a global economic meltdown to do the job for us—will surely be a bipartisan effort as well. The reason is as simple as the survival instinct: no political party will tell voters it’s time to take their medicine while the opposition party is telling them that free candy is still available. Democrats and Republicans will have to get together to find the courage to tell Americans the truth—and frankly, to have any chance of being believed.

I fully expect Washington to move in this direction early next year. President Obama’s debt and deficit commission sounded the alarm as early as July, and both parties have good reasons to take the debt issue seriously. Partisan warfare may well grow nastier than ever during this process, but that’s a small price to pay for meaningful action from folks who normally try to talk problems to death.   

The stumbling block, of course, will be how to attack deficits. Democrats will want to raise taxes; Republicans will want to cut spending. The numbers say that neither course by itself will come close to solving the problem. We’ll know the politicians are edging toward seriousness when they put everything on the table, including sacred cows and a good set of carving knives.

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