The Thrilla in Manila….er, Denver

Tomorrow night Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off in their first of three debates. It is being played up like a heavy weight battle reminding me of one of the most famous, that won by Ali over Frazier in Manilla back in 1975, their third and last fight .   Both candidates have been in training camps verbally sparring with mock opponents, and the pundits have speculated on who needs the win more (Romney) and who has the most to lose (Obama), etc., etc.

Viewers might want to do some of their own fight preparation and, since the first half of the Wednesday debate deals with the economy, you might want to read a Monday column by Robert Samuelson:  The truth deficit from both campaigns.

As Samuelson points out:  “What defines this campaign, in part, is a yawning gap between the political rhetoric and the country’s budget problems.”  You know, such as the imminent fiscal cliff and the fact that neither side has devised a multi-year budget plan that really tackles the problem of our burgeoning national debt (I know, the Ryan plan supposedly does, but even in theory (dubious theory at that), it doesn’t balance the budget until, oh, about 28 years from now at best.  Maybe just in time for my 95th birthday.

The chart below projects our downward trajectory of  S. S. and Medicare debt if we do nothing to alter its course:

Medicare & Social Security Deficits Chart

The big unaddressed issue is that too many of us are beginning to retire and fall apart at about the same time.  As Samuelson puts it:  “As you know, the great driver here is the retirement of baby boomers. Between 2011 and 2025, the number of retirees on Social Security will grow by nearly 50 percent to 66 million people; Medicare experiences a similar rise. The resulting spending surge perpetuates huge budget deficits.”  (emphasis added)

Now I will be interested to see if host Jim Lehrer will come up with a question that prompts either candidate to address this issue.   Without tackling that and what it suggests about the need for both budget cuts and increased taxes (and not just on the richest among us), I envision the first half of the debate with both candidates playing rope-a-dope, only seeming to be fighting a real fight.

Oh, they will argue over the  issue of jobs, of course, but who really knows what either could get accomplished in that area given likely continued gridlock in Congress?   Since the economy is slowly picking up, that will produce more jobs in itself, regardless of who is President.   At least that seems a frequent prediction of late (the “fiscal cliff” might have a say about that, though)

Included in the second half of the debate will be the topic of government, and here I hope Jim Lehrer asks this question prompted by Matt Miller in a column:   “….ask the candidates if they are in favor of restoring majority rule in this country. In other words, ask them if they would urge the Senate to scrap the filibuster – and if not, how do they expect to get anything done?”

I will be surprised if either the burgeoning baby-boomer-budget-issue or that of the filibuster are even raised by Lehrer, but they should be since the former is our greatest budget challenge and the latter seems crucial to returning Congress to being a functioning body.

If either point is brought up, I will stop channel surfing and actually pay attention.

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