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Sunday, December 11, 2016

WASHINGTON — Deficit hawks are worried that the Medicare debate in the presidential campaign will make it impossible to reach a post-election deal to balance the budget. At the same time, much of the punditry focuses on how mean and nasty this campaign is.

Those who are anxious about the deficit should relax. This campaign could actually pave the way for a sensible budget deal. And those who bemoan the rock-’em-sock-’em campaign should stop wringing their hands and get about the business of calling out falsehoods and identifying misleading assertions.

On the budget, the fear is that because President Obama is attacking Paul Ryan’s fiscal road map and because Mitt Romney is responding by assailing the Medicare savings in Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Congress will be scared away from reducing the government’s health care costs. In this view, the campaign will poison the well for future budget talks.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is we cannot have honest budget negotiations until we resolve one big question: Will new revenue — yes, higher taxes — be part of a budget deal or not? The election will settle where the country stands on this proposition.

Despite the fantasies of the trickle-down supply-siders, there is no path to a balanced budget without tax increases. Obama openly supports a tax increase. Romney and Ryan not only oppose higher taxes but also claim they can cut taxes and balance the budget — eventually. If they win, we can look forward to more tax cuts compounding the red ink. Isn’t this what should really concern the deficit hawks?

If Obama’s critics want to argue that the tax increases the president is endorsing (his centerpiece is letting the Clinton-era income tax rates return for those earning more than $250,000 a year) will not be enough in the long run, they make a valid point. But at least Obama is willing to acknowledge the need for some revenue. The other side would just keep on cutting taxes. Those who care about a “balanced” budget deal should acknowledge where balance lies in this debate.