Lou Cannon | The Mystery Election — and Its Uncertain Aftermath

Obama insists firmly on raising taxes on the rich, and Romney is equally adamant about retaining all Bush-era tax cuts. It seems unlikely that Obama would abandon his most frequent campaign promise before a second term even begins and perhaps even less likely that a Republican-controlled House would approve a tax increase. If Romney wins, the lame-duck Congress might kick the can down the road until he takes office, but a new Republican president who agreed to a tax boost could soon be anathema to his party.

Stuart K. Spencer, a key political strategist for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, is pessimistic about post-election compromise. He notes that the race has been both personal and ideological and believes the losing side is more likely to be confrontational than conciliatory. “It’s not just the politicians either,” Spencer said. “The American people are evenly divided and have strong feelings”

Even if the fall from the fiscal cliff is averted, prospects are dim for reducing a federal budget deficit that has run a trillion dollars annually for four years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if Bush-era tax cuts are extended and budget cuts rescinded, the deficit will surge, dimming hope for a “grand bargain” of the sort Obama and House Speaker John Boehner explored two years ago.

The campaign dialogue suggests that achieving even a trivial bargain would be a feat. Romney has promised to create 12 million jobs, cut all tax rates while closing unspecified loopholes, and reduce the deficit to 20 percent of gross national product by 2022. “The arithmetic suggests it may be impossible,” observed The Economist, which also gives Obama a low math grade.


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