Electoral distinctions in a nutshell

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Amid the coming flurry of saturation ad bombing campaigns -- especially those funded by Super PAC groups or wealthy individuals -- voters need only examine any one of several key issues to decide who to back in November. All of the major domestic issues involve taxes, government spending and the role of government in general, in case you didn't know. We bet you did.

An issue in the forefront this week involves the massive debt load about to descend on recipients of student loans across the country. U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is focusing on efforts to avoid an expected doubling of interest rates on Federal Direct Stafford Student Loans, due to occur on July 1.

The congressman estimates that in Vermont, nearly 70 percent of college graduates carry an average of $30,000 in debt, and that the total owed by Americans on such debt in the U.S. is estimated at a trillion dollars. That is said to be more than is owed on credit card debt.

In other words, if you think the housing debt meltdown of three years ago was fun, this should make for a never-ending frat party for the nation. The effect on the economy for years to come could, obviously, be devastating. Recent graduates will be hampered in every area of their lives -- especially when it comes to spending on homes, cars, washing machines, vacations, you name it.

The approach of Rep. Welch, the Obama administration and others is to extend the current subsidized loan rate for another year for the 7.4 million students loans affected, which would cost the federal government about $6 billion.

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The response of the Republican-controled House is that, sure, we'll extend the lower loan rates for a year, but the money has to be slashed from a preventative care fund that is part of the president's health care reform legislation.

Oh, and Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner assert that the real problem is that the economy has not grown fast enough under the Obama administration and therefore there is not enough opportunity for graduates to find good-paying jobs. As if Mr. Obama had inherited a rosy, booming economy from the previous, Republican president.

So, there it is again, and in crystalline form: Republicans want to cut federal spending and refuse to raise any more in taxes, and Democrats want to expand, or at least maintain, spending while the economy remains weak. Two different approaches to what makes the economy grow and what the role of government should be. And not much compromise, even as the economy seems weak enough to slide back toward recession.

These are the same arguments we see over the future of Social Security, Medicare, the federal health legislation, food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, job training, and other social spending -- and over whether there should be cuts in other budget areas, primarily in the Defense budget and in subsidies to large corporate interests.

And looming over all that is whether the level of taxes we pay as a nation and the percentage each segment of the economic spectrum pays is fair.

Foreign crises could come to dominate the presidential race and those for seats in Congress, but if not, these are the issues -- regardless of the party of those running for office and regardless of the flak ad attacks on TV -- that voters should strive to understand fully, while tuning out the rest.


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