- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Harry S. Truman famously placed a wood sign on the Oval Office desk that read, “The buck stops here.” The tradition of the president taking full responsibility for what happens on his watch apparently hasn’t been adopted by Barack Obama. President Obama prefers to pass the buck.

CBS correspondent Steve Kroft asked Mr. Obama on Sunday about the national debt going up 60 percent during his first term. The president blamed the previous administration’s policies for “90 percent of it.” By his account, four straight years of trillion-dollar budget deficits were caused by tax cuts put in place 10 years earlier, the cost of wars and a prescription drug plan.

The remaining 10 percent of responsibility involved powers outside of his control. “I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years,” the president said during a town hall hosted by the Spanish-language Univision network last week. “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”

GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan took issue with that point of view during a joint event with Mitt Romney in Ohio on Tuesday. “Why do we send presidents to Washington in the first place?” asked the Wisconsin Republican. “Don’t we send them to fix the mess in Washington? Look, if he can’t change Washington, then we need to change presidents.”

Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, gave a lengthy explanation of the role entitlement programs play in the $16 trillion debt at an event later that morning in Cincinnati. He said by 2025, the three mandatory programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — plus interest will consume 100 percent of federal revenue. That means every single tax dollar will go to pay just for these three programs, and any other government program would have to be funded with borrowed money.

A Romney-Ryan administration would reform these programs in a way that would not affect anyone over 55 years old, but would lower the costs through methods such as means testing, a gradual rise in eligibility age and premium-support options.

Mr. Obama has offered no alternative that would fix these programs before they bankrupt the country. MSNBC on Monday asked Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod for the president’s specific proposal to reform Social Security. “This is not the time to — we’re not going to have that discussion right now,” Mr. Axelrod stammered. “The reality of Social Security is this is a much less imminent problem than Medicare.” The only thing the president has done about Medicare is raid $716 billion from it to pay for Obamacare.

In his January 1953 farewell address, President Truman explained the concept behind the sign on his desk. “The president — whoever he is — has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” The American people deserve a man in the Oval Office who understands the concept of responsibility.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.