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AdWatch: Conservative group hits Obama on rising national debt, omits context on why it grows
WASHINGTON (AP) ' TITLE: "Stopwatch."
LENGTH: 30 seconds.
AIRING: Crossroads GPS, a conservative group, says it is spending $7 million to air the ad on network affiliates in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
KEY IMAGES: With an ominous monotone humming in the background, the viewer sees a ticking stopwatch throughout the ad. The narrator asks, "Why isn't the economy stronger? In the seconds it takes to watch this, our national debt will increase $1.4 million." Video shows Obama in 2008 saying, "We can't mortgage our children's future on a mountain of debt." Images fade in and out of a child's face, flickering numbers on a digital debt clock, the Chinese flag and a concerned looking middle-aged couple as the narrator says: "Borrowing from China for his spending. Every second. Growing our debt faster than our economy." The camera moves in on the stopwatch as the narrator says: "Tell Obama, 'Stop the spending.'"
ANALYSIS: The figures the ad uses are mind-boggling but accurate. That's what happens when you do the math with a record $15.7 trillion national debt, the cumulative amount the government owes its lenders. Everyone acknowledges it's a big problem that has to be addressed before it becomes completely unaffordable.
But that's not to say the commercial is completely fair. By making some implications and omitting perspective, it creates an impression that Obama is the sole culprit, which is far from true.
It's hard to blame the economy's weakness on the sheer magnitude of the debt. The economy is weak largely because it is still staggering from the Great Recession, which officially ran from December 2007 to June 2009 and continues to take a global toll. Many investors remain nervous, the nation still has a glut of housing that drives home prices down, there are unresolved worries about Europe's financial stability and the U.S. job market has yet to fully bounce back.
In fact, many economists view the situation in reverse, saying the debt is mountainously high because of the weak economy. With businesses and families saving more than they used to, the debt ' by which the government flushes money to consumers through spending programs and tax cuts ' has been one way the economy has been propped up recently.
As a result, they say that while the debt must be contained, that should be done over the longer term. A quick burst of debt reduction could throw the country back into recession.
As for the growing debt itself, that problem existed before Obama came into office. And once again the economy itself bears a lot of the blame.
Even before the downturn, the debt started swelling under the weight of tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush, plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were paid for through borrowing. But when the economy ground to a halt in 2008 and 2009 ' when it actually shrank in size ' the national debt grew at an annual rate of around 15 percent, about double the rate of the three previous years.
Feeding that red ink was the emergency financial bailout enacted by Bush a few months before he left office. Obama's 2009 stimulus package was another factor.
In addition, the government began spending more for programs that automatically grow during economic nosedives like unemployment insurance and food stamps. And it started collecting less revenue because companies' profits dropped and more people were out of work.
It's true that Republicans favor far less spending than Obama, and they've already forced him to wring hundreds of billions out of the budget. The GOP-run House has approved deep cuts in Medicaid and welfare that will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate, while major savings they've proposed in Medicare ' also opposed by Democrats ' wouldn't take effect until more than a decade from now.
But to call federal expenditures "his spending," as the ad does, ignores that the Republican-run House signed off on today's spending levels by federal agencies in a compromise reached with Obama last year.
China is the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt, holding around $1.2 trillion in Treasury securities. Economists agree that the U.S. is better off when the government is repaying Americans, not foreigners, for their loans, and lots of people get nervous when too much federal debt is concentrated in the hands of one country.
But China has been a major U.S. lender since before Obama took office. And when a government has to borrow as much as the U.S. does, it has to go where the money is.