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What Obama Should Have Said About the Deficit

David Callahan

One of the most frustrating aspects of national politics over the past two years is that deficit reduction has become Washington's top priority -- even as economists tell us that austerity only makes economic downturns worse and pollsters tell us that Americans are more worried about job creation than budget shortfalls.

President Obama shares the blame for letting the focus shift away from jobs. Again and again since late 2009, he has accepted and helped legitimize the premise that deficit reduction should be a top national priority.

And he did it again last night.

Asked about how he and Romney differed on deficit reduction, Obama immediately showed that they don't differ very much on this issue -- or at least in their assessment of its importance -- by rattling off all the ways he was trying to cut spending.

What he should have said is that deficit reduction must be a long-term priority, but the near-term goal of Washington should be to get Americans working again -- which, by the way, is the best antidote to red ink. Instead, it was left to Romney to make that point, explaining that one of his solutions was "to grow the economy because if more people work in a growing economy they’re paying taxes and you can get the job done that way."

Last year, President Obama introduced a major -- and quite expensive -- jobs bill and then complained as Congress did nothing. But no one should be surprised that Congress could get away with sitting on that proposal amid the worst unemployment since the Great Depression: As long as deficit reduction dominates as Washington's top priority, it's pretty hard to rally a serious push for a second round of stimulus.