New York Times White House correspondent Jackie Calmes off lead in Wednesday's edition on Obama's struggle with the federal deficit, "Test for Obama As Deficit Stays Over $1 Trillion." Credit Calmes for the premise and the Times for the prominent placement, but as usual, Calmes waved the blame away from Obama and again clung to the dubious idea that Obama-care would actually reduce the deficit.
Four years ago, Barack Obama campaigned for president on a promise to cut annual federal budget deficits in half by the end of his term. Then came financial calamity, $1.4 trillion in stimulus measures and a maddeningly slow economic recovery.
Now, despite small annual improvements, the deficit for the fiscal year that ends on Sunday will surpass $1 trillion for the fourth straight time. Against that headline-grabbing figure, Mr. Obama’s explanation -- that the deficit he inherited is actually on a path to be cut in half just a year later than he promised, measured as a percentage of the economy’s total output -- risks sounding professorial at best.
The fiscal imbalance on Mr. Obama’s watch, however much a result of economic and demographic factors beyond his control as well as his own policy choices, has increased the nation’s accumulated debt by about 40 percent and has saddled him with one of his biggest vulnerabilities. Facing off against Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama is on the defensive over deficits and debt nearly as much as he is over unemployment.
Dealing with deficits is the one major issue in which voters in polls regularly register more confidence in Mr. Romney than in Mr. Obama. It is also a flash point in the partisan war over the size and scope of government.
Mr. Romney has characterized his call for the repeal of Mr. Obama’s health care law as a budget saving measure, but the Congressional Budget Office has said that repeal would add more than $100 billion to the deficit over the next decade. Mr. Romney’s main proposal for reducing deficits in the short run is to cap all spending by the end of his term at a level equal to 20 percent of gross domestic product, the average for the 30 years before the recession, before spending on stimulus measures, unemployment aid and retiree benefits helped drive spending to the current 23 percent.
Calmes originally wrote that the Congressional Budget Office claimed a repeal of Obama-care would add more than $800 billion to the deficit (the story has been corrected online: the actual CBO figure was more than $100 billion).
But both figures are dubious, because there is skepticism that Congress will stick to reducing payments to Medicare, among other things. The House Budget Committee (chaired by Paul Ryan) accuses the White House of using "gimmicks and double-counting," which the CBO is required to take at face value. And conservative economists have predicted Obama-care will add to the deficit.