DWS struggles to defend Obama's deficit record

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

MANCHESTER, N.H. When I caught up with Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., in the spin room of last night’s Republican debate, she was arguing that President Obama had turned the nation around.

“When the president took office, he inherited the largest set of problems at once of any president since FDR,” Wasserman Schultz said. “He inherited an economy that was on the precipice of disaster, and Republican policies – especially under President Bush – where he had two wars unpaid for, two tax breaks for the wealthiest most fortunate Americans unpaid for, a prescription drug plan for seniors unpaid for and took a record surplus he inherited from Clinton, and turned it into a record deficit. President Obama in three years, has been able to begin to dig us out of that, begin to turn the economy around.”

She went on to tout “22 straight months of private sector job growth” and job numbers showing 200,000 were created last month.

“The facts are staring them in the face, and eventually voters are going to see through it,” Wasserman Schultz said of Republican criticisms that Obama’s economic policies had made the economy worse. But I noticed that though she mentioned the deficit as one of the problems Obama inherited, she didn’t mention it as one of the things of which he had dug us out.

When I had an opening, I asked her, “What about the deficit?”

I clarified that, “You had said that he had inherited the largest deficit and so forth and that was among the things that …”

“No, no,” she shot back. “I said that he had inherited the largest set of problems at once since any president since FDR or perhaps Abraham Lincoln.”

I explained, “Yeah, and you had mentioned the deficit among the problems that he inherited. And then you said, he started to dig us out. How did he start to dig us out of the deficit?”

Wasserman responded: “He started to dig us out of the economic hole that we were in. We were losing 700,000 jobs – I didn’t address the deficit.”

She then started rattling off economic numbers.

“The economic indicators out there are demonstrating that we’re beginning to turn the economy around and making slow and steady progress,” she said.

“But he didn’t do anything about the deficit?” I asked again.

She told me, “In fact, the Affordable Care Act, provisions of the Affordable Care Act have begun to bring the deficit down and President Obama pushed hard in the budget deal this summer to try to drag Republicans to the table to both provide spending cuts and change the tax code so we could begin to bring the deficit down.”

Yet I noted that even without getting into the argument about the numbers, when you back out the CLASS Act -- the long-term care program that was to generate five years of premiums before paying out any benefits, but has since been abandoned by Obama as unworkable -- you only get $70 billion of deficit reduction over 10 years.

“So how could you really say that’s putting a dent on the deficit?” I asked.

She told me,“Between the Affordable Care Act and spending cuts and eliminating tax breaks, we have begun to begin to…”

Yet I responded by what I thought was an obvious point: “But you haven’t eliminated the tax breaks.”

After that, a woman advised, “I think we should take another question.”

Then Wasserman Schultz said to me, “I’m not going to argue with you.”

I told her she wasn’t really answering the question.

“You asked me, has the president begun to bring the deficit down?” she responded. “And I said yes.”

Then she turned her back on me and started talking to somebody else.

During Obama’s presidency, the deficit was $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009 and $1.3 trillion in 2011 and 2012. The budget he submitted for 2012, if adopted, would have increased deficits by $9.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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