Plain speaking on spending

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Four serious Democratic leaders have gone on record saying they don't think Washington has a spending problem. Let's have this great debate.

When President Barack Obama told House Speaker John Boehner that we don't have a spending problem, I chuckled. So what, I thought. The president can deny the obvious and stake out a clear position, but the mainstream media give him both sides of almost every issue.

When Rep. Nancy Pelosi said it, I thought, good for her -- but she mostly lives in a liberal bubble and no one will notice what she says.

After Rep. Steny Hoyer, who is more measured and precise in his language, spoke out, I thought: This is a remarkable fit of candor that could bring into focus the contrast of the two parties' positions.

Now Tom Harkin, the uninhibited, retiring senator from Iowa, has put an exclamation point at the end of the Democratic position.

Every member of Congress and every candidate must now answer the simple question: Do you believe we have a spending problem?

Mr. Harkin expressed the view that Republicans believe is the true -- though mostly hidden -- Democratic position: "We have a misallocation of capital, a misallocation of wealth." Meaning, Washington needs to be in the business of reallocating capital and wealth.

I'm eager for a Democrat to take the next step and say how much wealth is too much, and how much wealth, per person, needs to be guaranteed by the government.

What better question could our politics try to answer?

The vivid contrast won't last long, since too many Democrats will find it difficult to defend anything resembling the status quo. They will develop a foggy vocabulary about "smarter government spending" or "a balanced approach." And of course they will rely on their favorite ploy for truth-avoidance: labeling every nickel thrown out the window in Washington as an "investment" -- usually, an investment in children, seniors, education, disease prevention, America's very survival, puppies and kittens or some other sympathetic cause.

This is a good debate to have. I hope the Democrats keep it up.

opinion_commentary

Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and a contributor to The Washington Post's PostPartisan blog.


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