I recently came across a Washington Post column, “The truth deficit from both campaigns.” In this column, Robert Samuelson details what each campaign isn’t telling us about the true economic situation of the country. Covered up by campaign rhetoric, both candidates are ignoring blatant truths that may threaten the economic future of the country.

President Barack Obama, according to Samuelson, conveniently refrains from discussing the larger issue of the uncontrollable growth of Social Security and Medicare, and how these programs are quickly becoming unsustainable burdens on the federal budget. If these policies are kept as is, they would result in a total added deficit of $10 trillion between 2013 and 2022. It is also estimated that by 2022, the deficit is expected to be $1.4 trillion — 5.5 percent of U.S. GDP.

Obama’s plans to tax higher income sector and revenue still won’t close the gap, even if income tax rates are raised as high as 49.6 percent of income. According to Third Way — a think tank striving to answer America’s tough questions — if Social Security and Medicare see no change, tax increases of up to 60 percent are ‘inevitable’ for the middle class. No matter how it’s sugarcoated, the truth remains that eventually Social Security and Medicare will overtake the GDP to the point of financial instability. But no one wants to tell us that.

The facts aren’t being hidden on one side alone. Samuelson pins Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for stretching the truth and mitigating the bad as well. Romney’s goal to cut the federal budget by 20 percent isn’t viable, Samuelson says. For Romney to do so, he would have to make drastic cuts to significant social programs, like the Center for Disease Control, the FBI and border authorities. Moreover, Romney’s claim to provide tax cuts won’t work. The need for revenue is so great that to close the gap, an increase in rates is necessary. Since 1972, tax revenue has only made up 18 percent of GDP. This has to increase if the goal is to curb deficit spending.

Again, the point is made that unless programs like Social Security and health expenditures are railed in, there isn’t a comprehensive solution to the growing deficit and debt. This is something that neither campaign wants to admit.

What stuck out to me about Samuelson’s column weren’t the glaring truths that we as a nation have yet to face — that’s a debate for a later time. What was striking was the fact that we continue to be oblivious to these issues. The structures and programs we have in place are quickly becoming outdated and unsustainable, and yet we keep trying to convince ourselves that maybe if enough Band-Aids are used, we’ll be able to magically make the problem disappear.

It’s no surprise that campaigns are catering to what people want to hear, but it’s concerning when we – the American public – don’t want to hear the harsh reality of the policy decisions facing us today. The reason candidates won’t tell us these hard truths is because they don’t think doing so will win them votes. They don’t believe we want to hear the truth.

This isn’t the first time that an article like Samuelson’s column has been written. The reality is that in the upcoming years, we as a nation are going to have to face tough cuts to many programs that people have come to love and rely on. But those cuts have to be made. And the sooner they’re made, the better.

As Thomas Friedman described in a Dec. 25, 2010 column in The New York Times, Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta, recognized this and made the tough cuts needed to balance the budget. Reed was quoted as saying, “The bottom line is that for the country to do and to be what we have been … there must be a generation tough enough to stick out its chin and take the hit. It is time to begin having the types of mature and honest conversations necessary to deal effectively with the new economic realities we are facing as a nation. We simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road.”

Now, the solution isn’t to take an ax to the budget, cutting anything and everything. But, it’s also not fair to keep delaying the conversation with campaign promises to save programs that at some point will need to be significantly pared down. As Reed said, it’s about being honest about the conversations we need to have and the position we’re in. Though, for the American public to get that honesty, we must start demanding it from our politicians, election season or not.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at hnahata@umich.edu.

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