We are getting the election we need

    With the election weeks away, we will soon see more examples of that old chestnut of pre-election opinion columns, the one that attacks both major parties for “not focusing on the long-term problems that afflict our country.” We are not at a loss for long-term problems, but at the top of every pundit’s list is the trillion-dollar budget deficit and the partisan divide that makes it impossible for us to reach the compromise we need to eliminate it.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    With the election weeks away, we will soon see more examples of that old chestnut of pre-election opinion columns, the one that attacks both major parties for “not focusing on the long-term problems that afflict our country.” We are not at a loss for long-term problems, but at the top of every pundit’s list is the trillion-dollar budget deficit and the partisan divide that makes it impossible for us to reach the compromise we need to eliminate it.

    The “plague on both parties” column serves many purposes. It enables opinion writers to keep up the façade or, in some cases, the reality of non-partisanship. It reinforces their claim to be deep, far-sighted thinkers. And, of course, it doesn’t anger the advertisers.

    Sometimes those centrist columns actually tell the truth about our politics. But in 2012 we are getting exactly the election contest we need, one that is focused on the most important issues of the day: whether our government is act on behalf of the corporate elite or working people and the middle class.

    This is not to say that the deficit isn’t a problem. It is not an immediate problem. Indeed any quick solution would send the economy back into a recession that reduces tax revenues and make the long-term problem worse.

    The barrier to resolving the deficit problem is the partisan divide in Washington. There is no neutral solution. We can raise taxes to provide health care for all, retirement security for our seniors, and long-term investments in education and infrastructure that grow the economy. Or we can further cut taxes to spur the economy while making drastic cuts in government spending.

    There is some middle ground here. Everyone acknowledges that there is a lot of wasteful health care spending. But there is no agreement on how to reduce it. Democrats think, rightly in my view, that the only way to do so without undermining care for all is to gradually adopt major changes in how we pay for health care. Republicans think that market reforms will cut costs and are willing to live with the consequences if that means some people don’t get the care they need.

    And, yes, some compromise can be reached between raising taxes and cutting spending. That, in fact, is the only way deficits will ultimately be reduced. But compromise can’t be reached when both parties believe that the American people support their preferred approach to the problem.

    That’s why we need a decisive election, one that settles at least for the next four years the terms of trade in the compromise we need. Thanks in no small part to the rightward tilt of the Republican Party, the nomination of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s loose lips and President Obama’s recognition that bi-partisanship was getting him nowhere, that’s exactly the kind of election we are having right now.

    In a parliamentary system the election would give one party or another the power to try to deal with the budget on its own terms. For better or worse, our system doesn’t work that way. So there ultimately will be a compromise. But precisely because, despite all the distractions, the election has been focused on the real issues before us, the party that wins the White House in this election will have a mandate to secure a resolution tilted its own way.

    At the moment, President Obama is likely to win the election, and the Democrats will hold the Senate. Democrats won’t take control over the House. But early next year a newly re-elected president will not only have a mandate but enormous leverage due to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the sequestration deal that threatens deep cuts in military spending, which are both abhorrent to Republicans. The result will be a deal closer to Democratic aspirations, one that helps the economy in the short term and reduces the deficit in the long term.

    If that happens, we will discover that neither party ducked the big issue this year. Rather they gave us an election that asked us to choose the future we want for our country.

    Marc Stier writes about politics from the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

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