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Thu., Feb. 18, 2010

Voters must keep up pressure to quell deficit

Politicians are like children. They need to be rewarded for eating their vegetables. But if they feel like they can get away with it, they’ll gladly hide the broccoli in their napkins.

Americans say they want the president and Congress to reduce the budget deficit, but that won’t happen if voters leave the table.

Deficit reduction is a worthy goal, because the annual deficits and the accumulated debt are reaching scary proportions. The annual deficit has topped $1 trillion, and as a share of the economy is the largest since World War II, which was a time of great sacrifice. If we do nothing for the next four years, spending for interest on the debt ($516 billion) will top all other domestic programs.

Regardless of whether Americans understand what it will take from all of us to tame deficits, it is imperative to take on the challenge. President Barack Obama announced a bipartisan deficit reduction commission after Congress was unable to form one. Predictably, that squabble broke down along party lines. However, that doesn’t mean politicians are unaware of the fiscal score. As former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., told the New York Times:

“There isn’t a single sitting member of Congress – not one – that doesn’t know exactly where we’re headed. And to use the politics of fear and division and hate on each other – we are at a point right now where it doesn’t make a damn whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican if you’ve forgotten you’re an American.”

Simpson was named to co-chair the panel, along with Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff in 1997, which was the last time Republicans and Democrats hammered out a budget-balancing compromise.

Whether this panel can produce results depends upon how seriously voters take the issue. Will they continue to press the case when rosier economic days return? Will they gag when they realize that a vegetable medley of tax increases and budget cutting is on the menu?

If nothing else, the panel will be a source of nonpartisan information on deficits and debt and can help disabuse the public of misguided notions. A recent New York Times/CBS News Poll shows that two out of three Americans oppose cutting health care and education. A slim majority is against cutting military spending. But to reduce the deficit, those large budgetary items will have to be considered.

If voters are prepared to sacrifice, then our leaders will follow along. This exercise should reveal a lot about budget deficits – and the hunger for change.

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