Voters have just a few days left to make a choice for First District Representative.
All along the campaign trail, candidates have been hitting fiscal issues hard.
Fiscal problems in Washington, DC have elicited different responses from candidates in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
Gary Malecha chairs the University of Portland's political science department. He says whoever wins this winter's special election will have to be ready for major decisions on spending, budget cuts, and tax policy. Those are issues that the so-called Congressional “Super-Committee” is wrestling with now.
"We have really no idea in terms of what Congress is going to arrive at in terms of cutting expenditures. Now, there have been some suggestions for example, pushing as high as three trillion dollars. Whehter or not that's going to transpire remains to be seen. A lot also depends on the kind of revenue that's going to be raised," he said.
Malecha says anyone serious about the race had better be able to answer voters' concerns.
Republican Jim Greenfield has been very outspoken on cuts to government spending. In fact he's tried to nail down debt and spending as a signature issue. His pattern, demonstrated earlier this month at the Beaverton voters' forum, is to mention it first and forcefully.
"The problem is that the government has grown out of control. It's now 25 percent of GDP - the highest level in history," Greenfield.
Greenfield says the government has to get serious about its obligations.
"The national debt of the U.S. is now almost $15 trillion, it goes up nearly $4,000 a day. Anybody here think we can pay that debt?"
Greenfield says it can be done - with deep cuts in federal spending. In fact, he proposes eliminating entire departments not specifically described in the Constitution, like the departments of Education and Energy. He says the budget must be balanced without additional taxes. In fact, he favors tax cuts across the board.
Greenfield's fellow Republican, Rob Cornilles has answered budget questions by saying the US must stop borrowing money it doesn't have, and to be wary of quick fixes to the economy. He told an audience at the same Beaverton forum, he's thought through entitlement reform, and come to this conclusion about a key entitlement: Social Security.
"I don't believe in the privatization of Social Security. I think our country's had that debate, and we got a resounding answer from the American people," Cornilles said.
Cornilles gives high marks to a report commissioned by President Obama as a starting point for discussions of entitlement reform.
"What happened? Essentially that report went into desk drawner in Oval Office and people in Congress," he said.
He has come out in favor of discretionary spending caps, and some tax reforms, as a method of raising revenues, while condemning tax increases. And he says economic growth is an essential part of eraasing the national debt.
Leading candidates in the Democratic primary vary in their approach to spending. State Representative Brad Witt has called for ending the war in Afghanistan and redirecting military spending as a “downpayment,” in his words, on the federal deficit.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the war cost the country $118 billion this year. Congressional Budget Office estimates peg the deficit at $1.6 trillion.
At a City Club of Portland appearance, Witt called questions of taxing and budget cuts a false choice.
"The truth of the matter is our nation can neither tax nor cut its way back to prosperity. The only way that we get there is to create more jobs so we create more revenue," Witt said.
Witt has opposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid to balance the federal budget.
State Senator Suzanne Bonamici, also a Democrat, has spoken often of her wish to take a balanced approach to budget issues. She says that the federal budget should not be balanced on the backs of the needy - including seniors. Here's how she addressed the issue at the Beaverton Voters' Forum.
"Social Security is a promise we've made to seniors. It's a matter of priorities. We should start by looking at ending Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest. Make sure we have enough to keep promises to seniors on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid," Bonamici said.
Bonamici has also talked about cutting back military spending in the interest of domestic needs.
Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has echoed the calls for redirecting the military budget for Afghanistan.
"I think we have got to end the Bush tax cuts for the highest 2% in the country. The other thing that I would do is start auditing the defense budget the way we audit all other budgets for the federal agencies. You do those three things: cuts, efficiencies, adjusting the revenue like I suggested, you get yourself a balanced budget," Avakian said.
One of the quirks of the First District race is the grueling schedule. The candidates are running for their party's primary nominations now. Winners will go on to a special general election January 31st. But 2012 is a regular election year. Assuming the January winner wants to keep the seat, he or she must immediately start preparing for the regular election cycle in 2012.
Political science professor Gary Malecha says this campaign is forcing the primary candidates to take stands on ongoing budget issues that could change in the course of the race.
"They've already gone on record making statements and commitments... while the election is unfolding, we'll be caught up in what's going on on the Hill. It will be very difficult to avoid taking a specific stance in terms of what's transpiring on the Hill. They'll be identified by stances before we get to the general election," Malecha explained.
Malecha says difficult votes lie ahead for whoever wins the race: the Super Committee's plan for debt reduction, maybe a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment. There will be many ways for the incumbent to go on the record, so voters can compare how campaign rhetoric matches with performance.
Ballots for the special primary election have been mailed, and must be turned in by Tuesday, November 8th.