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Thu., Nov. 18, 2010

Editorial: Deficit plan can’t work without real action

If you ever wonder why politicians prefer sound bites to detailed proposals, check out the knee-jerk responses to a draft of the bipartisan deficit reduction report produced under the leadership of former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, is unhappy with the revenue-raising aspects of the plans and vows to punish politicians who break their no-new-taxes vows. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint issued an emphatic thumb’s down: “If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level.”

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of House Democrats, has declared the proposal dead on arrival because it touches the political third rail of Social Security.

It’s fine for the nation’s leaders to object, but we really need to hear what they would rather do. Instead, they’ve signaled a retreat to the same slogans that have gotten us nowhere. It’s impossible to follow them down a path of spending cuts, budget reform and entitlement fixes when they don’t offer any directions.

We understand the problem. No need to continually restate it. The election is over. Time to get to work.

The bipartisan Concord Coalition, which has long laid out the dangers of chronic unbalanced budgets, praised the work of the deficit commission, which was put together by President Barack Obama when Congress couldn’t agree on the parameters. Concord’s executive director Robert Bixby says actions must replace pronouncements.

“Many people have been calling for a serious conversation about these issues. The bipartisan reports now beginning to circulate will test whether that desire is real or simply an excuse for inaction,” he said.

The report calls for about three dollars in cuts for every dollar it generates through increased taxes and the elimination of deductions. It ends earmarks, which is a symbolic victory, and reduces benefits in Social Security and Medicare, which produces significant savings. Defense spending is also cut.

Most budget analysts agree that some tax increases are needed to pay for spending that’s already occurred. The spending cuts and other budget controls are needed to keep the budget on a sustainable path. Sacred cows must be addressed. Leaders must find the courage to tell hard truths. Then they must compromise. It wouldn’t be fair for one party to bear the brunt of criticism, when both of them created this mess.

We’re not fans of every choice in this plan, but we like having a blueprint that forms the basis for a serious debate. Liberals, conservatives and moderates have issued their complaints. Fine. Now they need to produce alternatives, not poll-tested clichés.

And as our math teachers always instructed, show your work.

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