Three debates scheduled for October may help clarify that, and so Vermont got to play what will probably be its only role in the coming election. Mitt Romney holed up on a mountaintop retreat on the other side of the state for a few days to prepare for the debates, which is about the closest we will probably come to seeing candidates in the flesh. Obama doesn't need to come here, since Vermont is about as blue a state as it gets, and even in a tight election, our three electoral votes won't make much difference. Romney realizes he would be wasting time and money in a state he has no chance of winning. There are too many other battleground states, like Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa to make a fly-by over the Green Mountains worth either candidate's time.
At some point, it will be great to understand why a state like Iowa, with only six electoral votes, always seems to be at the center of every election cycle. At the start, it's the first state to hold a meaningful caucus that commands outsized attention from politicians and the media during the primary phase. And now, its residents can expect to be subjected to multiple visits, unending advertisements and robo calls. Since when did Iowa become such a bellwether
But we digress.
It's fashionable and tempting to dismiss most of what gets said on the campaign trail as motivated solely by short term political calculations which victorious candidates can safely ignore once in office. Pious and deeply held sentiments that seemed written in stone while on the stump suddenly become malleable and subject to modification when the candidate discovers a given situation is much more dire than originally believed. Nevertheless, what candidates say on the road to political glory does matter, we think, and the public should pay attention to it.
A candidate builds credibility by actually trying to implement policies and ideas described in campaign stops or literature and advertisements. Conversely, cynicism is bred and political capital diminished when one thing is said prior to the election and another afterwards. Everyone understands flexibility, but there are limits.
One such issue involves taxes, always a subject of unending interest. Gov. Romney has proposed a tax plan that, depending on who's talking, would either have a neutral impact on middle class voters, or cost them upwards of an additional $2,000 a year. He has proposed cutting individual tax rates across the board by 20 percent. At the same time, he has stressed a need to start moving in a serious way to drain the swamp of red ink and unbalanced budgets which the nation has rung up over the years. Fiscal prudence doesn't require the nation's deficit to be reduced overnight, but it is worrisome - we all see what happened in Greece. And the math, in terms of what lies ahead if popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security are not overhauled, is not good.
Mr. Romney has correctly identified the massive array of loopholes, exemptions and tax breaks that now populate the U.S. tax code as ripe for pruning. It's really a disgrace. Every special interest has lined up at the trough and has been duly fed by politicians eager to court their support and more importantly, their money. But many of these exemptions - often egregiously referred to as "tax expenditures" - are there for a reason which seemed desirable at one point or another. The home mortgage deduction (estimated cost to the U.S. Treasury: $99 billion), the charitable giving deduction ($53 billion), tax breaks on investment income (more than $100 billion) are all examples of this and it's difficult to believe that the housing industry, nonprofits and the financial industry will take the broad view and go along with reform "for the good of the country."
We understand why Gov. Romney has avoided getting specific about which loopholes he feels most strongly about closing - he would simply get nitpicked to death over that and blasted by whatever interest group is losing its preferential treatment, which is of course, indispensable and richly deserved, in their provincial view.
How about this? Why not hold open the idea that all of the loopholes - every one - goes away when a new administration reforms the entire tax code? Couple such an overhaul with an across the board tax rate cut for both individuals and businesses, and you have a strategy that makes economic and financial sense. The challenge is selling it politically. That would not be easy. But it would be the right thing to do.
It matters not only from an economic standpoint, but from a moral one, to rein in the growth of government spending and make some kind of headway on the overall deficit Sooner or later, somebody pays the bill. Future generations of Americans will have their hands full as it is without being saddled by the legacy costs of promises made, perhaps in good faith, but which have proven to be overly generous. This issue is already manifesting itself in the pensions bomb that has already exploded in several states and municipalities, and is one of the major issues in this week's strike in Chicago by its public educators. It won't be long before these chickens start to really come home to roost, if left unattended much longer. Hope and change, anyone?