Romney puts Obama on defensive on deficit

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Obama largely failed to delve into his own lengthy attempts to forge a grand bargain on the deficit with Congress last year, or to put the blame for its failure on the House GOP's unwillingness to raise any taxes — a key Democratic talking point. This allowed Romney to argue the president is unable to compromise and to talk about his own achievements as a governor. 

Romney put the $1 trillion budget deficit in simple terms, arguing that too much spending is immoral, while Obama got mired in details over role that the Bush administration had in helping to create America's fiscal woes and why a “balanced” approach he favors is better for the country.

 “I think it's a moral issue,” Romney declared at one point. He said Obama's $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan “doesn't get the job done” on the budget. 

He said he would balance the federal government by imposing a simple test: “Is the program so critical that we should borrow money from China to pay for it?”

He appeared to create an opening by joking that while he liked the PBS character Big Bird, he would cut funding for PBS, but Obama did not capitalize on this. 

Obama, appearing annoyed, tried to detail how the size of Romney's budget cuts larger than Obama's, because he would keep low tax rates on the wealthy in place would devastate essential services, but Romney was able repeatedly to claim that specific cuts, such as to Medicaid or to education, would not in fact hurt the middle-class.

Instead, Romney resurrected the charge that Obama had cut $716 billion from Medicare in the healthcare overhaul. Obama tried to defend himself, arguing that no benefits were cut and only fees to providers.  

Obama did not mention that Romney's own running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had included the same savings in his own House-passed budget. 

On entitlements, Obama oddly argued that he likely shares the same views on Social Security as does Romney. This could have been an opportunity to point out GOP plans in the past to covert the program to a system of private accounts. By saying his approach is similar to Romney's, Obama will have raised questions on the left about his willingness to entertain cuts to the program.

“The president should have grabbed that,” Romney declared, but in the next breath refused to say he would have done the same. “I have my own plan,” he said. 

Romney also admitted in explaining his tax reform plan, which he claims cuts rates by 20 percent while not adding to the deficit, depends on assumptions about economic growth which the Congressional Budget Office does not endorse, in order to work. Obama did not forcefully go on the attack on this either. 

The Obama campaign moved swiftly after the debate to try to argue that Romney was playing loose with the facts, while conceding he had won on style.