The Republicans are trying to revive the national debt as a big campaign issue.
Now that the government has exceeded $15 trillion in red ink—a figure confirmed by the Treasury Department this week—the GOP is focusing on the topic again as an example of how President Obama's economic policies have gone wrong.
The Republican National Committee is running an attack video on the web arguing that Obama's policies are irresponsible and that he has broken his promise to dramatically reduce the debt. The ad's title, illustrated by a photo of a laughing Obama in shades, is, "The Undisputed Debt King of the Last Five Presidents." GOP strategists say this will be a big theme throughout the election year.
The debt is getting renewed attention in Washington not only because the government has crossed the $15 threshold. It's also because a congressional "super committee" has failed so far to reach an agreement on reducing the government's red ink. The panel has a deadline of next week to approve a plan.
But the committee has degenerated into the kind of divisions that have plagued Congress all along. Most Republicans are opposed to big tax increases and most Democrats are opposed to big cuts in social programs, especially Medicare and Social Security.
Automatic cuts and tax hikes would be triggered by the failure of the committee to reach an agreement. But those automatic provisions wouldn't take effect until 2013. As a result, much of the urgency has faded from the committee's deliberations.