In this May 2, 2011, file photo, Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway gestures during an interview, in Omaha, Neb.
The following editorial appeared recently in The Seattle Times:
Mitt Romney and President Obama need to talk about spending and debt, and as adults. They have to be believable, and their arithmetic has to work.
Here is the problem. For four years the federal government has run a deficit of at least $1.3 trillion. The federal debt is now $15.7 trillion, one-third of it borrowed in Obama's time.
Stabilizing the debt should be one of the central issues of the 2012 campaign.
Obama has been chatting up the Buffett Rule, under which million-dollar earners would pay a minimum tax. There is a fairness case for this. The problem is that there are too few rich people who are paying at lower rates than Warren Buffett's secretary. As a solution to the problem of spending and debt, the Buffett Rule is a mere footnote.
Obama has better material if he wants it. He appointed the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. It set a goal of reducing federal spending to 21 percent of gross domestic product by 2035, down from 23.8 percent.
The commission would do this by reforming future pensions, increasing the retirement age and shaving the Social Security benefit formula. It would increase revenues by broadening the Social Security tax base, treating dividends and capital gains as ordinary income and having all income-tax payers take the standard deduction on Form 1040.
You can see the commission's proposal on the Internet. We don't agree with all of it, but it is serious. And you don't hear much about it from Obama.
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On his Web page, Romney wants to lower federal spending to 20 percent of GDP by 2016. This would be a huge change. But how to do it? Romney would cut subsidies to Amtrak, artists, public TV and legal services.
Those, however, are small items. He would increase military spending, which is a big item. Only one of Romney's proposals, turning Medicaid into block grants, would take a big bite out of a big current program, and it is not enough.
Romney also needs to increase revenues to 20 percent of GDP, and he offers little to nothing about that.
Regarding spending and debt, both of these candidates fail the arithmetic test. One of them needs to pass it.