SID SALTER: Bipartisan cancer – debt and deficit – require candidates' answers

Across Mississippi, voters are gearing up for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.
Frankly, in two of the state’s four congressional districts, there is virtually no suspense based on the makeup of the districts and the incumbents now in office.
In the 2nd District, incumbent House Homeland Security Committee chairman U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, should be re-elected in a landslide. Republican challenger Bill Marcy of Meridian is a truly nice man, but he’s a nice man who doesn’t live in the district and who is running in the state’s most liberal district.
In the 3rd District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, has a similar advantage over his Democratic challenger, Pickens Mayor Joel Gill. Gill is another nice guy who doesn’t live in the district he seeks to represent – the state’s most conservative district.
In the 4th District, expect incumbent U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, to face a stiffer challenge than usual from Republican state Rep. Steven Palazzo of Biloxi – but the state’s senior member of Congress is still a prohibitive favorite to win re-election.
The state’s 1st District features what state and national analysts see as a “pick ‘em” race between first-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, and Republican challenger state Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo. There are a pack of minor party and independent candidates in that race as well whose mere presence in the race could change the outcome.
That’s how close some think the Childers-Nunnelee race will be.
But as the state’s congressional elections prepare to begin the stretch run after the full contact campaigning at the Neshoba County Fair later this month, voters should seriously consider the fruits of a presentation made by a bipartisan presidential commission on the nation’s debt and deficits at the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting Sunday in Boston.
The co-chairmen of the commission – former Clinton administration White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Republican U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming – told the nation’s governors that current budgetary trends constituted “a cancer that will destroy the country from within” unless Congress and the White House takes action.
The basic premise of the Bowles-Simpson presentation to NGA was that present federal revenue is consumed by the obligations of three federal entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans – the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries,” Simpson said.
“We can’t grow our way out of this,” Bowles said. “We could have decades of double-digit growth and not grow our way out of this enormous debt problem. We can’t tax our way out. The reality is we’ve got to do exactly what you all do every day as governors. We’ve got to cut spending or increase revenues or do some combination of that.”
President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2011 only identifies $2.57 trillion in revenue while running a $1.27 trillion deficit – continuing deficits begun in the Bush administration.
Before casting another vote for Congress in Mississippi, voters should know how the candidate they are supporting feels about the “cancer” threatening national security – debts and deficits – and how the candidates propose to treat it.
At some point, debts and deficits have to begin to matter to voters.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor at The Clarion-Ledger and a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.

Sid Salter