Budget Cuts Can Leave Scars

Posted on May 2, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The most important issue in the 2012 presidential election is also the most politically dangerous: the size of the federal budget deficit.

Everyone agrees that at $1.5 trillion per year and growing, the deficit is the Damocles’ sword hanging over America’s economic come-back. The solutions are simple: cut spending, raise taxes, or do both. But simple and politically easy are not the same thing, as America is about to find out.

Raising taxes? We can take that one off the table right now. As Walter Mondale proved in 1984, running for president by being honest about the need to raise taxes is like defending yourself against a right hook by leaning into it.

So that leaves cutting spending, an idea that took on new currency recently as President Obama and congressional Republicans crafted a budget deal that avoided a government shutdown. Obama, wisely, is now casting himself as a budget hawk who has more cuts up his sleeve.

Republicans, facing an incumbent many believe has the inside track to victory, may well find themselves in the politically risky position of running on a platform of cutting the federal deficit by drastically reducing spending. That sounds like a winning platform, right? Well it could be, until you get under the covers and start pointing out exactly where those cuts might be made.

Many Republicans are embracing a bold budget outline proposed recently by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), one that does not spare Medicare, Social Security, and other popular entitlement programs that have long been considered the third rail of American politics.

Many believe the 2012 presidential race is President Obama’s to lose. So far, there has been little electricity about any of the GOP candidates, the economy is picking up slowly and his approval ratings are improving. In fact, at near 50%, they are about the same as Ronald Reagan’s were at this point in the 1984 reelection cycle, and he won in a landslide.

So it would seem the GOP will be forced to decide how audacious it can be in proposing budget cuts. Expect a surgical approach, not one that makes any hard decisions about Medicare or Social Security.

We’d like to see a serious debate about federal spending, one that includes a discussion of reform for the big entitlement programs, as part of the coming campaign. This, of course, is not going to happen.

We’ve been around national politics a long time and we can always hope, but at the moment it looks like the campaign will remain focused on important issues like birth certificates and Donald Trump’s hair.

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