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Neither Party Deserves to Lead - Opinion

The U.S. unemployment rate is near 10% as Democrats obsess over race, gender and soaking the rich, and Republicans fixate on regulations, torts and taxes.

Americans may be dissatisfied with the economy but don't look for Republicans to sweep control of the House and Senate.

Voters have good reason to not be enamored with both parties.

Democrats have pushed through President Obama's agenda -- more than $800 billion in stimulus spending, health care reform and new financial regulations -- yet the economy remains sluggish and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tells us unemployment will linger near 10% for many months.

The Republican chant of less regulation and lower taxes is just not credible after the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, and with a $1.5 trillion budget deficit.

Flashback: Ron Paul Dismisses McCain, Obama >>

Voters want a clear plan to balance the budget and create decent jobs, and to win their confidence one or the other party must come clean about what that takes.

Spending is more the problem than taxes -- Congress has no self-discipline.

In 2012, after most stimulus money is spent and the economy is three years into the recovery, the Office of Management and Budget estimates the deficit will stand at about $829 billion. Spending will be 23.2% of gross domestic product compared with 19.6% in 2007, the last year before the Great Recession. The difference comes to $535 billion -- more than half the budget gap -- caused by new, permanent extravagance.

We don't have to look far for solutions as unpalatable as those may be.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are more than 40% of federal spending. Nothing gets fixed without fixing old-age pensions and skyrocketing health care costs.

Simply, Americans live longer. Without increasing the retirement age to 70 seniors will sooner or later get disappointed when the federal government can't pay what has been promised.

Americans pay 50% more for medical care than do the Germans -- the United States spends 19% of GDP, while Germany, Holland and others, with healthier populations, spend about 12%.

Americans do get the privilege of paying more for drugs, doctors and health insurance executives, an army of claims bureaucrats that mindlessly harass, and get to wait three weeks to see an urologist, orthopedist or other specialist, just like the Europeans and Canadians.

President Obama's health care reforms were supposed to fix all that but now premiums and drug prices are jumping and small businesses are shopping for cut-rate insurance policies that will further limit the choice of doctors and jack up co-pays.

It is high time to get serious about aligning prices in the United States to what Europeans pay, reforming the claims process and stop treating the health insurance industry like Europe's displaced landed aristocracy. That would require politicians to stand up to big contributors to their election campaigns.

I won't mention tort lawyers -- that is more than "progressives" can consider.

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To grow, prosper and create jobs, Americans must stop viewing international commerce through a child's eye -- it is not about the virtues of free trade vs. protectionism but combating economic aggression that threatens to destroy Western prosperity and institutions.

China is abusing the World Trade Organization system, subsidizing exports into the United States and European Union with an undervalued currency. It keeps out foreign products with high tariffs, requires foreign companies to transfer technology and compels Chinese companies to use Chinese products.

Eighty percent of Chinese wind farms are state-owned and the turbines they purchase must have 70% Chinese content. It's tough for U.S. and European companies like

General Electric

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to sell in China without moving production there.

The global economy always seems to grow between 3% or 4% a year over the business cycle. With its trade policies, China grows near 10%, the United States and EU grow less than 3%, Western governments can't pay their bills, and China buys their debt with the proceeds of its trade surplus and gloats over the Westerner fools.

Behaving like innocents in the scoundrel's grasp, Western leaders deserve Beijing's contempt.

Getting tough with China is not protectionist, it's self defense. Don't stand up and Beijing will end up owning the National Mall along with the Parthenon.

Sooner or later, a candidate for president or speaker will grasp these things and explain them to Americans.

For now, Democrats obsess endlessly about race, gender, and soaking the rich, Republicans fixate on regulations, torts and taxes, and Americans are treated to 10% unemployment.

Neither party really deserves to lead.

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Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.