Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two conventions, two contenders, zero debt plans

  • Print

At their respective conventions over the past fortnight, warring Democrats and Republicans agreed on their determination to administer bitter medicine to the American people. "The work ahead will be hard," vowed Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," President Obama chimed in.

But as the dust settled over Tampa and Charlotte and we tried in vain to recall a single hard truth any of the candidates had told us, it occurred to us that maybe they were stressing their supposed courage to distract us from their true point of convergence: their mutual, utter and utterly depressing failure to grapple honestly with the nation's biggest problem.

That problem is the nation's debt. We say so not because we think budgets matter more than anything else but because nothing else -- nothing that really matters to people -- will be unaffected if the nation does not get its long-term finances in order.

The classroom overcrowding Obama promised to ease? The military Mitt Romney vowed to strengthen? Neither can happen if entitlement programs and interest on the debt consume every dollar of revenue -- but that's what will happen by 2025 on the current path, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By 2055 interest payments alone would eat up the totality of revenue.

It's heartening, on one hand, to realize how fixable the problem is. Modest tax increases and challenging but manageable adjustments to Social Security and Medicare could buy a lot of time. Confidence would return, and along with it economic growth, which is what the country needs most of all. The United States is in a better position to handle the challenge than most developed countries. But that advantage will dissipate if the political system does not rise to the task.

Mitt Romney professes to care deeply about the debt. But his tax cuts would cause more of it. He promises to counter them by limiting deductions and loopholes, but which ones and by how much? Mortgage interest? Charitable giving? He won't say.

He promises also to "fundamentally reduce the size of government," as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie boasted at the GOP convention. Romney's brave, sacrificial offering: the National Endowment for the Arts, less than a fingernail's worth of the federal budget.

Obama says he cares, too. He will take "responsible steps to strengthen" Social Security. Which steps? Raising the retirement age? Slowing cost-of-living adjustments? He doesn't say. He will save Medicare by controlling health-care costs. How, since he ruled out Mr. Ryan's competition-driven plan? He won't say.

"You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear," Obama said in his acceptance speech. "You elected me to tell you the truth." Gov. Christie said, "We believe in telling hard-working families the truth about our country's fiscal realities."

With less than two months before the election, is there any hope of hearing fiscal truth from either candidate? Can reporters press harder for answers, or can debate questioners?

Given their shared reticence, Obama and Romney may have an inclination not to press each other for honest answers about their plans. Maybe such fudging is tactically sound. The country, though, deserves better.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2012 A10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • The sun peers through the fog to illuminate a tree covered in hoar frost near Headingley, Manitoba Thursday- Standup photo- February 02, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google