The wrong issue for the wrong candidate

The wrong issue for the wrong candidate
The wrong issue for the wrong candidate

Late Friday afternoon, the Treasury Department published the official report on the U.S. budget deficit for the most recent fiscal year: $1.089 trillion. While that’s obviously still a very large budget shortfall, the deficit is $200 billion smaller than it was last year, and is nearly $300 billion smaller than when President Obama took office.

To add a little historical context to this, over the last four decades, only two presidents have reduced the deficit this much, this quickly: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Despite this fact, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney on every major policy area except one: deficit reduction. It’s an advantage the Republican is eager to exploit.

Aside from Tuesday’s pivotal town hall debate in New York, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will use the upcoming week to focus on the issues of debt and deficits.

Polls show voters trust Romney over President Barack Obama on the question of who would better handle the national debt, one reason the Romney campaign has launched a new television ad attacking the president on the issue. Romney will also deliver a speech on government spending this Friday.

The Romney campaign circulated talking points to campaign surrogates and allies on Sunday evening, which were provided to CNN by a GOP source who did not want to be identified providing confidential campaign material to the media.

The talking points are fairly predictable. Did you know that Romney/Ryan believes, “Getting our fiscal house in order is more than an economic imperative – it’s a moral imperative. Americans deserve a president who will secure a future for our children that doesn’t leave them buried in debt.” It’s a lovely sentiment.

But there are a few problems to keep in mind before Romney wraps himself in a Ross Perot-like cloak of fiscal responsibility.

First, Obama, whether the public realizes it or not, has a record he can brag about when it comes to deficit reduction – very few presidents in American history can boast about having inherited a massive deficit, then cutting it by nearly a fourth in just one term.

Second, while Romney’s correct to note that the existing budget shortfall is still quite large, it’s worth appreciating the fact that the main drivers of the remaining deficit are Republican policies. Indeed, Romney’s own running mate was largely responsible for creating the mess Obama is trying to clean up.

But perhaps most important is the detail that’s gone largely forgotten: Romney doesn’t have a deficit-reduction plan. It simply doesn’t exist. If you go to the Romney/Ryan “issues” page, you’ll see 29 links. One mentions “spending,” but there are no references to “deficit” or “debt.”

If one looks hard enough, there is a “Romney Plan For Deficit Reduction” on the campaign’s website, but the entirety of the plan is literally just 208 words long. (For contrast, note that President Obama published a plan of his own over a year ago. It’s 80 pages.)

Making matters worse, Romney’s ridiculously thin, 208-word plan actually includes provisions that would make the deficit worse, not better, such as destroying the Affordable Care Act.

I realize that with the economy improving and unemployment falling, the deficit is starting to look like an appealing issue to Romney. But with just three weeks remaining in the race, the Republican has absolutely nothing credible to say on the subject, and he’s up against a president who has one of the more impressive deficit-reduction records in recent history.