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The GOP convention's $16-trillion reasons to talk about spending

August 29, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • A second national debt clock measures increases in U.S. indebtedness during the four days of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
A second national debt clock measures increases in U.S. indebtedness during… (Harry E. Walker / MCT )

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the only pieces of business conducted on the first, storm-shortened day of the Republican National Convention was the unveiling of a debt clock. Two, actually -- one to show where the national debt tally is and another showing how much would be added during the course of the four-day event.

It’s unlikely Democrats will have their own such display when they gather next week in Charlotte, N.C. But the quickly-changing digits might well figure prominently there too, considering an inauspicious milestone that looms: At its current rate, the debt could top $16 trillion sometime next week, at least by the RNC’s tally.

PHOTOS: Scenes from the GOP convention

When Mitt Romney tapped the chairman of the House Budget Committee as his running mate, it put the issue of debt and deficits at the forefront of a campaign that had been waged on the topic of the economy more generally. It’s an issue that had long been a favorite of conservatives.

The Obama campaign isn’t shirking a fight on the debt, even if it’s an issue it tends to discuss only in a reaction-mode way. In anticipation of Ryan’s speech, committee counterpart Rep. Chris Van Hollen pointed out that the House Republican budget Ryan authored would make no short-term dent in deficit spending. And he said Ryan was party to policies under President George W. Bush that turned a Clinton surplus into deficits.

“So tonight, when Paul Ryan looks up at that debt clock, all Americans can say, ‘Thank you, President Bush, thank you, Congressman Ryan, we are forever in your debt,’ ” Van Hollen said at a news conference at the Democrats’ war room in Tampa, Fla. “We need to address the deficit and debt. The issue is not whether we do it. It’s how we do it.”

Republicans officials won’t say yet how they’ll note the latest trillion in debt, though it’s safe to say they won’t let it go unnoticed. They hammered President Obama in November when the U.S. debt reached $15 trillion.

PHOTOS: The protests of the GOP convention

The spotlight of a convention could offer Democrats an opportunity to reverse what polling has shown is an advantage for Romney on the issue of federal spending. Whether the president might use his speech to delegates next Thursday as the venue for it, the campaign declined to say.

“He’ll certainly talk about the need to be fiscally responsible and pay down our deficits so that we can grow our economy and make the investments that we need. I don’t want to get into the words he will use,” said deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.

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