Whoever wins this year’s US election, the combined effect of three events – the expiry of former president George W. Bush’s tax cuts, a renewal of the legally binding limit on federal borrowing and the start of a Congressionally mandated sequester, a mechanism that will automatically cut domestic spending from 2013 – will force the president and Congress to engage deeply with fiscal issues. The decisions made will do much to determine the country’s future.
For many observers, the central question in debates over deficit reduction is what can be done about entitlements. Growth in spending associated with an ageing population will be the major factor fuelling the growth of federal spending.
Leaders in both parties should commit themselves to the goal of tax reform for growth, fairness and deficit reduction. They should acknowledge that every tax expenditure or special break has to be on the table. They should ensure their staffs are compiling a large inventory of options. The relevant Congressional committees should take testimony from experts of all persuasions. And then, right after the election, the negotiations should begin. Nothing that is likely to done during the next presidential term will be more important.