Obama vs. Romney 101: 5 ways they differ on debt and deficits

President Obama and Mitt Romney offer sharply different views on how to get the nation back on a sustainable fiscal path. Here are five ways they differ on policies to cope with a soaring debt.

5. Debt ceiling

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
US House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio (l.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky brief reporters on negotiations to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis at the US Capitol on July 30, 2011. The next day, President Obama announced that an agreement had been reached to avoid the first-ever US default on its national debt.

The debt ceiling, the Congress-imposed limit on how much the nation can borrow, was a hot issue in the summer of 2011, when congressional Republicans used the nation’s approach to breaching the debt ceiling as a moment to take a stand on what they decry as out-of-control government spending. What emerged on the GOP side was a bargaining position dubbed "the Boehner Rule," after House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio: Every $1 of increased debt authorized by Congress must be matched with $1 in future spending reductions.

Democrats decry this as holding the nation hostage for bills it has already accrued. 

The deal to raise the debt ceiling put the issue off until perhaps February or March of next year, when the nation is again expected to bump up against the debt ceiling, now set at $16.4 trillion. 

Obama has argued that failing to raise the nation’s debt ceiling jeopardizes the nation’s credit rating, thus potentially spiking America’s borrowing costs, and represents the ability to pay off debts America has incurred in the past. As such, tampering with it calls into question the credit of the US and so should not be a controversial moment for Washington: they should pass debt ceiling increases while working on long-term deficit reduction plans.

Romney has taken a line favored by many tea party Republicans, saying that he would sign off on a debt-ceiling increase only if Congress had passed a “cut, cap, and balance” proposal pledging to cut federal spending back to 2008 levels, cap its future growth at 20 percent of GDP, and begin moving on a constitutional amendment to require balanced budgets in the future.

For a full list of stories about how Romney and Obama differ on the issues, click here.

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