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As one of the tiny sliver of highly attentive voters who are still undecided, here's where I stand: If Mitt Romney and Barack Obama don't begin showing me something positive in this week's debate, I'm writing in Alan Simpson.
If I could, I'd start a national movement for writing in the former Wyoming Senator and co-chairman of the 2010 national debt commission so that millions of voters could send a message to the next president: Start solving problems!
This has been a miserable campaign for getting answers from the candidates on the most pressing issues. The strategies of the campaigns dictate that attack is preferable to elucidation or inspiration.
So I'm voting for Simpson unless I start hearing some definitive answers on these domestic issues, the focus of the first debate Wednesday night.
1. The Fiscal Cliff: I have not heard either candidate address the catastrophe that befalls the country at the end of this year unless a deal is reached.
A combination of expirations - of the Bush tax cuts, the alternative minimum tax fix and Obama's payroll tax cuts and unemployment extensions - plus an automatic sequestration of defense spending by 10 percent, domestic spending by 8 percent and Medicare by 2 percent is estimated to clobber the economy by up to
5 percent of gross domestic product.
Jim Lehrer's first question to Obama should be: What are you doing to avoid this debacle on your watch? And, to Romney, what advice do you have for Republicans in Congress so you don't inherit it?
Then, to both, what do you say to those - Grover Norquist of anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform and AARP - who have blocked bipartisan solutions proposed in Congress? Simpson has not hesitated to take on both.
2. The Debt and Jobs: The Simpson-Bowles commission set out a formula for saving us from a debt catastrophe - the public debt rising from 70 percent of the GDP at present ($10.6 trillion) - the highest since just after World War II - to
90 percent in 10 years and 200 percent by 2037. Greece's is at 165 percent, but Spain (also in trouble) is like us, at 70 percent.
Simpson-Bowles proposed $4 trillion in debt reduction over 10 years on a 4-1 ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases. Obama appointed the commission, then ignored it. He now claims he's for $4 trillion in cuts, too - on a 2.5-1 ratio - but watchdogs such as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget say he's double-counting defense savings. And he refuses to restructure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the big debt drivers.
Moreover, Obama's deficits over four fiscal years - not including the deep recession year 2009 - will total increases of 31.7 percent of the GDP, compared with 26 percent in eight years of spendthrift George W. Bush (including 2009).
Romney, in one GOP debate, said he wouldn't accept a deal involving even $10 in spending cuts to $1 in new revenues.
Getting the debt under control is not just a numbers issue - it's a jobs issue. Concerted action on the debt and taxes - with tax reform that eliminated loopholes and lowered rates - would stimulate investment and job creation. I know where Simpson stands, but not the other two.
3. Investment and Jobs: Obama talks a lot about public investment but I rarely hear him talk about encouraging broad private investment, which best produces lasting growth. Moreover, he never says anything about reforming public investment - for example, by doing away with the Davis-Bacon Act that requires paying union wages on public projects. Romney never talks about public investment - for instance, the estimated 10-year need for $2 trillion for roads, bridges, water projects, etc. And Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget calls for slashing domestic spending and entitlements from 13 percent of the GDP now to 6.6 percent in 10 years.
4. Inequality: A 2011 Congressional Budget Office study showed that from 1979 to 2007, the income of the top 1 percent of earners increased 275 percent to just 40 percent for the middle fifth. More disturbing, the median income of U.S. households was lower in 2011 than in 1996. Taxing the rich, as Obama wants to do, won't change this long-term trend, which is producing a country where the wealthy and well-educated have an enormous advantage over everybody else. What's to be done?
5. Education: It's a big part of the answer, yet after 30 years of talk about education reform, U.S. kids rank 25th in math, 14th in reading and 17th in science among advanced countries. Only a third of high school graduates are proficient in those subjects and nearly 50 percent aren't ready for college work. In 20 years, our population will be half "of color," but half of kids "of color" don't finish high school. Obama and Romney favor school reform, but where is it on their priority list? And will they smite the teachers unions, which protect inept adults at the expense of kids?
6. Immigration: Is Romney still for "self-deportation"? Will Obama work for comprehensive immigration reform - but, if he can't get it, accept giving green cards to foreign Ph.D.s?
7. Health Care: What will Romney replace Obamacare with? How will Obama pay for the higher-than-estimated costs that always accompany new entitlements?
8. The Next Generation: Social Security and Medicare, programs for seniors (who vote) make up 50 percent of federal spending. Programs for kids (who don't vote), only 8 percent. What will the candidates do to adjust the balance?
I honestly don't know what Alan Simpson's answers to every question would be, but if I don't get some good ones from Obama and Romney, I'll take a chance.