Romney did mention, almost in passing, that he would reform Social Security and Medicare. Changes could yield huge savings, because these programs cost $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2012, a third of all federal spending. But Romney didn’t specify how he would alter Social Security, and his controversial Medicare proposal wouldn’t start until 2022 — after a two-term President Romney would already have left office.
Still, Obama didn’t even mention these programs. The president has been content to imply that raising taxes on the “rich,” defined as couples with incomes exceeding $250,000, would cure most of the deficit problem. That’s not true.
Obama and Romney can evade these unpleasant and unpopular subjects now, but the victor won’t be able to avoid them after the election. How the fiscal cliff is handled (or mishandled) almost certainly represents the single most important federal policy affecting the economy’s near-term prospects. Nor will large deficits miraculously vanish even if the recovery continues and strengthens.
Americans face a rude awakening: a future that hasn’t been acknowledged and debated in the campaign.