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Editorial: Election 2012: To tax the wealthy or not?

Updated: September 10, 2012 10:46AM

When all is said and done, one touchy disagreement lies at the heart of this presidential election and the dysfunction in Washington:

Should the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes to help fix a country that is in desperate need of fixing?

President Barack Obama said as much on Sunday morning in a TV interview. He said he would be “more than happy to work with the Republicans” to fix the big problems that threaten the nation with financial ruin, such as the unsustainable growth of Medicare costs and the swelling national deficit, if they would only drop their opposition to raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

That’s it. That’s the whole ballgame.

Yes, the president said, “some adjustments” have to be made to Medicare and Medicaid — code words for saying that middle-class and poor Americans will have to take a hit in all sorts of ways to balance the budget — but it is unconscionable to do so without first asking more of the wealthiest Americans.

Or is every last dollar in the pocket of a billionaire “jobs creator” (talk about Orwellian language games) more precious than a dollar in the purse of an elderly Medicare recipient who can barely pay her rent?

For the last four years, that rigidity has made bipartisan cooperation and compromise impossible. Republican extremists committed to a kill-the-beast assault on government have thrown fairness to wind.

“You can’t reduce the deficit unless you take a balanced approach that says, ‘We’ve got to make government leaner and more efficient,’ ” Obama said. “But we’ve also got to ask people — like me and Gov. Romney, who have done better than anybody else over the course of the last decade, and whose taxes are just about lower than they’ve been in the last 50 years — to do a little bit more.”

Obama has proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to roughly the levels they were during the Clinton Administration, an era of prosperity and balanced budgets.

In the meantime, Mitt Romney on Sunday continued to double down on a tax-and-spending plan that doesn’t add up. An independent analysis says he simply can’t end enough tax deductions and close enough loopholes to make up for the lost income from a promised 20 percent tax cut for all Americans.

And when asked again Sunday which specific loopholes he would close and which programs he would cut, he again refused to say.

It is enough for now, Romney said on “Meet the Press,” for the voters to know the “principles” of his plan.

Translation: “If I told you more, you might not vote for me.”

Other issues won’t matter nearly as much in this presidential election.

Obama and the GOP are not far apart on foreign policy, largely debating along the margins about whether Obama is a good enough friend of Israel and a tough enough foe of Iran. It’s hard for the GOP to sell the notion that the president is a liberal wimp on foreign affairs when he did, in fact, order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and continues to fire drone missiles at perceived terrorists.

And differences between the two candidates on cultural issues, while always good for a fevered debate, are not likely to sway many of the last remaining undecided voters. Folks who put abortion, gay marriage and the like at the top of their issues lists no doubt made up their minds a long time ago.

But should the wealthy pay more in taxes as part of any fair deficit-reduction plan? That’s the question of the moment.

Romney says no, but won’t say who’s going to feel the pain instead.

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