Our View: Solutions, Not Platitudes

Published Sep 8, 2010.

MANKATO — It’s campaign season and there are a few givens: some candidates will try to win voters with platitudes and avoid talking of solutions to our fiscal problems that unfortunately are very complex and not amenable to sound bites. Will tax cuts to business or upper income people stimulate the economy? Will extending unemployment benefits help the economy? Can we sustain the current level of entitlement programs for the elderly like Social Security and Medicare? How much can we deficit spend and add to our debt before our international lenders start demanding higher interest rates? The nonpartisan Concord Coalition offers several sobering thoughts and a needed reality check for candidates in its latest Washington Budget report. The group says the latest long-term budget outlook from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has “thrown sand into the political gears of both parties as they develop their fiscal policy arguments for voters.” Among the campaign statements Concord says the CBO report debunks: that tax cuts for anyone have no long-term harm to the fiscal situation, that health care reform this year “saved” Medicare or that Social Security payments will not continue to be a problem for the long-term budget picture. The automatic spending increases in Social Security and Medicare will grow faster than the money coming in to pay for them, and will, if benefits are kept even at the current level, require borrowing, according to CBO. Those stark realities do not come forward on the campaign trail by either party because they’re bad news for voters. Pick a demographic, and one can find something that must be cut in order to keep the budget in balance and stem the tide of red ink. All voters will have to swallow hard choices and honest candidates will tell them so. CBO notes economic growth alone will not solve the long-term budget problem that puts all of the economy at risk. Some balance of tax increases and spending cuts will be needed. That’s the reality. Any politician who says differently is either ignoring the facts or intentionally deceiving, or in a fantasy land. Says Concord: “CBO’s August Update confirms that all policy options — spending cuts and tax increases — should remain on the table in discussing potential solutions to our nation’s structural deficit. Economic growth alone will not be enough to achieve a sustainable fiscal policy, nor will trimming everyone’s favorite target — waste, fraud and abuse. Campaign rhetoric that suggests otherwise is not supported by the facts.” This statement comes from an organization whose co-chairmen are former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican, and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat. Fortunately, there is a group of former private sector and public sectors experts trying to shed light on the problem and offer reasonable solutions. Voters would be well advised to listen to what they have to say. The Concord Coalition and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s upcoming “Fiscal Solutions Tour” will not suggest specific political solutions, but will offer its audience a number of options that need to be considered.  Voters would benefit from investing time in this effort to understand the problems before they spend time listening to another stump speech by candidates rife with platitudes but deferring the realities. Unfortunately, as the Democrats chide Republicans for ideas of trimming Social Security and Republicans chide Democrats for proposing tax increases, both are leaving themselves little room to compromise once they must solve the real problem.