The latest sign President Obama fears he's headed for defeat came this week when he said he would seek a "grand bargain" with Republicans to reduce the $16 trillion debt.
Over the course of his campaign, Mr. Obama has ignored the monstrous debt he has piled up over the past four years in an orgy of unprecedented annual spending increases and budget deficits. Now, with little more than a week left before Election Day and the presidential race in a dead heat, he suddenly wants a compromise with Republican leaders in Congress to curb spending and borrowing.
He's four years late and $5 trillion short of dealing with an issue that threatens to engulf our government, the economy and every American in a sea of unfathomable debt and, possibly, another recession.
The front page headline in Thursday's Washington Post said, "Obama vows to refocus on debt" in his second term.
In an interview Tuesday with the Des Moines Register that he initially said was off the record, Mr. Obama called for a budget deal that he claimed would be "one of the biggest things we can do for the economy."
Then, on Wednesday, amid new polls showing he was statistically tied with Republican Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign abruptly changed its mind and released the full transcript of the interview.
Next to a persistently weak economy and feeble job creation, the nation's debt remains one of the top three concerns for voters. Polls now show that Mr. Romney has much higher approval scores for his ability to balance budgets and deal with the debt.
No doubt tightening polls were the key reason for the Obama campaign to release the transcript, which, in part, reads:
"We're going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business. It will probably be messy. It won't be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I've been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of [spending] cuts for every dollar in [taxes], and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs."
Actually, it was House Speaker John A. Boehner who first broached the idea of a grand compromise.
The president offered no new details of what he would offer the Republicans in such negotiations, nor how they would deal with the Jan. 1 deadline when a mountain of automatic tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to take place.
Republicans are unalterably opposed to raising income tax rates on anyone in an anemic economy that has barely been growing at between 1 percent and 2 percent.
Even former President Bill Clinton has urged Mr. Obama and his party to temporarily extend all of President George W. Bush's tax cuts in the present economic climate, giving Congress time to pass a tax reform plan that would broaden the tax base and lower all the income tax rates at the same time. This is essentially the same plan Mr. Romney has been proposing in his agenda to get America working again.
But Mr. Obama has stubbornly refused to consider such a plan, saying Mr. Romney's "numbers don't add up." In fact, his bipartisan deficit-reduction commission proposed the very same tax reform approach that Mr. Romney is championing.
Republicans responded Wednesday to his eleventh-hour grand bargain proposal by dismissing it out of hand as a warmed-over plan right out of his last budget, which was decisively rejected by the House and Senate.
If all this looks like a last-minute maneuver of political desperation, that's exactly what it is. Mr. Obama's campaign strategists believed they could defeat Mr. Romney easily by playing class warfare, attacking the wealth he earned the old-fashioned way -- by working for it and by investing in businesses right here in the United States that created thousands of jobs. Mr. Obama thought he could bring Mr. Romney down by pointing to some of his investments abroad, but it turns out Mr. Obama's own retirement pension is invested in China, too.
They attacked Mr. Romney for some investments made by his venture capital firm that didn't turn out so well, which happens in the real world. Mr. Romney struck back at Mr. Obama's own failed investments in green energy businesses that went bankrupt, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for billions of dollars in bad loans.
Mr. Obama's campaign believed it could crush Mr. Romney with petty issues while ignoring the president's own immense failures: four insufferable years with an economy that's barely moving, 23 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed in part-time work, falling incomes, and a suffocating debt that looms over all of us.
Mr. Obama has shattered deficit records since he took office: $1.4 trillion in 2009, $1.3 trillion in 2010, $1.3 trillion in 2011, and an estimated $1.2 trillion in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Unprecedented spending, far in excess of the federal government's annual tax revenues, are also fattening the publicly held debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy. In 2010, the debt mushroomed to more than 50 percent of the economy and, the CBO says, could reach 87.4 percent by 2021.
"Obama turned a temporary expansion of government, through [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] and the auto bailouts, into a permanent expansion of government. Before Obama, federal spending averaged 20 percent of [gross domestic product] for decades. Now he is presiding over a much bigger government, at 24 percent of GDP, " says Stanford University economist Keith Hennessey.
Future generations will have to pay for all this spending. As things stand now, each American's share of that debt comes to $32,000. If the government's spending levels continue on their upward course, that figure will soar to $103,827.
There's one more thing Mr. Obama decided to do in the past few days that he had not done in the course of his re-election campaign because he cynically believed he didn't need to: Tell voters what his agenda would be if he wins a second term.
Obama's "New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security" went into the mail this week. It was nothing more than a rehash of the same failed spending and tax hike plans he has peddled before. Look where it has gotten us.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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