Debt and Deceit
One of the more brazen attacks leveled against Mitt Romney in these last weeks before the presidential election is that his economic proposals are reckless and irresponsible. President Obama has repeatedly claimed that his opponent, rather than follow his dignified example and demand that wealthier Americans "pay their fair share," will instead cut their taxes by $5 trillion -- and that the only mystery is whether the governor will make the sacrosanct Middle Class pay the balance or add it to the national debt.
Incidentally, $5 trillion happens to be not only the amount the presidential candidate could possibly add to the debt, but the amount the sitting president has already added. Yet somehow, speculation on what the challenger would do will trump what the incumbent seeking reelection has actually done.
When he began his presidency, Obama pledged "to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of [his] first term in office." He had no plan explaining how he would accomplish such a prodigious task, but uttering the magic words of fiscal responsibility was enough to convince a trusting constituency. He did, however, recommend numerous plans to increase the debt, from economic stimulus to socialized medicine, so it cannot be surprising that it now stands at over $16 trillion.
Mitt Romney, for what it's worth, has actually balanced several budgets in his time. He was, in fact, so good at balancing budgets that he was hired to balance budgets and earned his living balancing budgets. Barack Obama, however, has thoroughly depleted the significant political capital with which he began his presidency in large part by exhausting the nation's financial capital. Instead of cutting the deficit in half as promised, and merely slow rather than reverse an untenable rate of spending, he increased the budget deficit he inherited from President Bush, from $400 billion to $1.4 trillion. Each of the four budgets he has signed has added to the debt an average of $1.3 trillion; under his administration, the Federal Reserve has added nearly another trillion to both its balance sheet and the monetary base. This exceptionally abysmal performance has accordingly been awarded with a slew of credit downgrades.
The president's plan for a second term, despite all his wondrous experience this time around, is no more detailed than ever before. He grudgingly acknowledges that we must come up with "some" spending reductions, provided they are "responsible," which suggestions to cut federal funding for televised puppets and abortion clinics are apparently not. Whereas Governor Romney maintains some semblance of clearheadedness, rightfully pointing out that running up unprecedented levels of debt can hardly build the Democrats' sustainable middle class that is "built to last," President Obama has yet to identify an existing pork-barrel project that does not merit taking out another loan from the accommodating Chinese.
But the key to resolving all these financial troubles, Barack Obama would have us believe, is to just have the rich pay "a little bit more" in taxes. What exact number the president means by a "little bit more" is a mystery to both himself and everyone else, even though he and his surrogates are very fond of the innocent-sounding phrase. But increasing tax rates, even if they did miraculously leave economic growth unimpaired and collect extra revenue, would have a negligible effect in reducing the debt. Given that we only have so many millionaires and billionaires among us, there is little they can do to keep in check annual deficits now measured in trillions.
The president assures us that his facile economic plan "is not class warfare -- it's math," that he wants to "make investments in our future" and "bet on America." But the American people and their government no longer have the money with which to bet again on Barack Obama's skills in investment or arithmetic. Wild conjectures on Governor Romney's proposals cannot outweigh the empirical evidence of President Obama's existing record, which does not merit the repeat performance a second term in office would give.