Ruth Marcus: the artful dodgers

Oklahoman Published: October 5, 2012
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Asked what he would cut, Romney was reduced, once again, to citing Big Bird. “I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” he told moderator Jim Lehrer. Amount of federal spending on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in fiscal year 2013? A whopping $445 million. Million, with an M. Chump change cuts like this can hardly be taken seriously.

Romney said the president “should have grabbed” the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan, but he rejects the plan's fundamental approach of balancing spending cuts with increased tax revenue.

Romney was blatantly dishonest at numerous points. He said the new Medicare payment board would “tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive,” when the statute specifically prohibits such judgments. He said re-electing Obama would mean “dramatic” and “devastating” military cuts — when those are called for in the to-be-avoided-at-all-costs sequester that Romney's running mate voted for.

I could go on, but let me turn to Axelrod's praise of Obama as serious truth-teller. Hardly.

Two examples of presidential obfuscation will suffice. First, Obama praised himself for a “specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan.” He offers $2.50 in cuts for every $1 in additional revenue, Obama boasted. But Obama's $4 trillion isn't enough to put the debt on a sustainable, downward course. That total is padded by including in the supposed “cuts” nearly $1 trillion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The comparable savings from the Simpson-Bowles commission would total $6.6 trillion to Obama's $4 trillion. So much for straight talk.

Same for entitlements. How to address Medicare spending? “Lower health care costs,” Obama advised. Social Security? Some tweaking will suffice. On this score, Romney gets some honesty credit for saying, when it comes to Medicare, that “for higher-income people, we're going to have to lower some of the benefits.”

One of these men will take the oath of office next January. One might have out-zinged the other on Wednesday night. Neither has prepared the American public for the hard choices ahead.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP