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Deficit politics; Parties must find a way to end stalemate over taxes and spending

Here's a telling fact: A new analysis of tax policies advanced by the four remaining Republican presidential candidates shows that three of them would balloon the national debt. This from the party that threatened to cause the country to default on its debts last summer, so concerned was it about that debt.

If Democrats are eager to spend more without taxing enough, Republicans are eager to tax less without reducing spending enough. Either way, the deficit goes up.

The analysis came from U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Of the four remaining candidates -- former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul -- only Paul proposes to match tax cuts with specific and commensurate spending reductions, and they are so severe as to be unmanageable.

But Romney, and especially Gingrich and Santorum, would spike the deficit even higher. The report says that by 2021, the debt would rise by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum's policies and by about $7 trillion under those pushed by Gingrich. Romney's plan, matching $1.35 trillion in tax reductions with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, still leaves the resulting deficit higher than today.

Clearly, and despite all the hot air about the federal budget deficit, these candidates are more interested in spoon-feeding Pablum to their supporters than they are in actually doing something about the nation's balance sheet. There's nothing like an election, with candidates needing to appeal to real voters, to strip away the veneer and reveal the politician within.

The budget deficit is an important issue. This page has supported much of the recent increases in the deficit, because of the urgent and immediate need to counter an economic recession that threatened to fracture the nation's financial infrastructure.

But at some point, you have to pay up, and anyone who is serious about the issue understands that it will take a variety of tools to bring the lines for spending and revenue closer together.

That means dealing with the financial problems of entitlements, especially Medicare and Social Security. It also means enacting some kind of tax fairness, including higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. But Democrats are loathe to talk about the former and Republicans, in the grip of tea party absolutists, won't acknowledge the latter.

What each will do is encourage their supporters' prejudices -- Democrats for spending programs and Republicans for tax cuts. There is a middle ground there and, it must be said, one that President Obama briefly occupied during last summer's debt limit fiasco. But the Republicans running for president? None of them will go there, not even Paul, whose prescriptions redefine the word Draconian.

It's not the least bit surprising, but it is a shame.