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State of the debt neglected in Obama speech

‘Where’s the guts?’ to confront fiscal crisis, critics ask

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Deficit hawks are criticizing President Obama, who spent much of last year locked in acrimonious talks with Republicans over how to trim the $15 trillion federal debt, for all but ignoring the fiscal crisis in his election-year State of the Union address.

Mr. Obama barely mentioned the subject Tuesday night. Republicans who scrutinized the president's speech calculated that he devoted just 2.8 percent of it to debt reduction, and that portion was largely a rehash of his call for higher taxes on the wealthy.

They also noted that he glossed over the country's massive borrowing on the 1,000th day since Senate Democrats last approved a federal budget.

"He deliberately, calculatedly decided to ignore the ominous threat hanging over this country," Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in an interview. "It's a total failure of leadership."

Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, a crusader for debt reduction, said Mr. Obama failed to level with the public about the tough spending choices faced by the government.

"The president did not admit that America's financial condition was poor and deteriorating, and he failed to provide a clear path forward to restore fiscal sanity," said Mr. Walker, founder of the nonprofit Comeback America Initiative.

During a visit Wednesday at a manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mr. Obama said more government spending is vital to generate more tax revenue.

"You hear a lot of talk about deficits and debt," Mr. Obama said. "And those are legitimate concerns, although the most important thing we can do to actually reduce the debt is to grow the economy. So we can't abandon our investments in things like manufacturing and education investment, because if we're growing faster, the debt and deficits start coming down, the numbers get easier to manage."

In his speech Tuesday night, Mr. Obama proposed using half the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for debt reduction. The other half would be spent on infrastructure projects and other programs.

Mr. Sessions said the savings from drawing down military deployments should be used to reduce "our enormous borrowing." He noted that even Democrats on the president's Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission advocated cutting $4 trillion over the next decade.

"He ignored it," Mr. Sessions said of the president. "It's going to be more difficult to achieve fiscal sanity this year without the president's leadership."

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, Wyoming Republican and co-chairman of the bipartisan presidential commission, also was unimpressed after the address.

"Where's the guts? Where's the hard stuff? Where's the beef?" he asked rhetorically in an interview on Fox Business Network.

When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the national debt stood at $10.6 trillion. He has presided over three successive years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits, causing some policymakers to warn that the crushing burden will harm the very people Mr. Obama says he wants to help, the middle class.

"Nothing could be more devastating to middle-class working Americans than to have another recession or a collapse occur," Mr. Sessions said. "The path we're on is unsustainable. The debt is already impacting working Americans."

In November, a congressional supercommittee failed to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings required by last summer's agreement to raise the nation's borrowing limit. The failure triggers across-the-board budget cuts in defense spending and social programs that would take effect in 2013.

By the end of this week, the nation's debt ceiling will be increased by $1.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion, with the Senate expected to reject a largely symbolic resolution opposing the increase.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has set a vote on the measure for Thursday.

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