Time To Tell The Truth About Taxes And Benefits

By: Steven and Cokie Roberts

Time to tell the truth about taxes and benefits

Both candidates for president failed to tell the truth about the biggest issues facing the country: spending, taxes and deficits.

Every reasonable and realistic person in Washington — and, yes, there are some left — knows that any “grand bargain” must involve both higher revenues and reduced benefits. But since those options are unpopular, both candidates hid behind frothy and fraudulent promises that no real sacrifice would be required — at least by their own party’s core constituents.

President Barack Obama essentially said that soaking the rich would solve the problem. Republican Mitt Romney said that lowering taxes and cutting regulation would magically create new profits and comfortable surpluses. They were both dissembling, and they both knew it.

But that was during the campaign, when both men were scrambling for votes in an extremely close election. Now that the election is over, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to take risks and say unpopular things. It’s time for leadership.

Of course, that’s easy to say and hard to do. Gridlock is a more likely outcome than progress. Ideologues on both sides are digging in for trench warfare and sending out signals that any hint of compromise will be met by immediate cries of betrayal.

Those ideologues have dominated the capital over the last few years, but they should not win again. The national interest demands a drive for common ground. And so do many voters. “Tonight you voted for action,” the president said Tuesday in his acceptance speech, “not politics as usual.”

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That’s right, and the president has to take the lead here. Yes, he promised four years ago to govern in a bipartisan way, and no, he did not succeed in doing that. The bulk of the blame rests with Republicans who blocked him at every turn, but there’s no point in refighting those old battles. The time for finger-pointing is over. It’s a new day, a new term. The president actually urged voters to support “anybody, of any party” who would “break the gridlock in Congress,” and now he has to govern by supporting those same people.

For starters, he has to put on the table significant entitlement reform — raising the eligibility age for Medicare, for example, or slowing the rise of Social Security benefits. And he has to stand up to the liberal purists who insist that no benefit — not one — should be part of any discussion.

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