• With: Gov. John Kasich, Bret Stephens, Matt Kaminski, Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Paul Gigot, Kim Strassel, James Freeman

    HENNINGER: -- who say, I think I'm going to vote for President Obama. I don't feel that strongly about it, but I don't feel Mr. Romney has made the case with me. But I wish I could hear him out before I finally make up my mind. And this is the opportunity to do that.

    GIGOT: Yes, that Obama narrative is basically an inherited disaster. And he made some progress, and don't let Mitt Romney, who is just like George Bush, bring you back to the disaster. And some people are buying that narrative, however, reluctantly, I think because Romney has not connected Obama's policies to the actual pain they feel?

    RABINOWITZ: Speaking of forward looking, if they want forward looking, let him imagine himself as the president he would be, and let him present to the people, get it in the debate, what the disaster is in a second term for Obama. What would be the case? He doesn't have to worry about being Mr. nice guy and all the rest. This is the one and only chance. There is life after the presidency, he should figure out. And he ought not to look back and say, I didn't risk being an Independent thinker.

    GIGOT: I didn't leave anything on the table.

    Kim, what are you hearing from the campaign about how they are going to proceed?

    STRASSEL: The big question that remains out there, too, is we're seeing two different Romneys out there on the stump, day to say. Sometimes you see an aggressive Mr. Romney who is out rebutting some of the president's arguments and making a big campaign. Sometimes you see sorrowful Mr. Romney who sort of laments that the president has led us to this point and --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Hey, Kim, which do you like?

    (LAUGHTER)

    Which should he be, aggressive or sorrowful?

    STRASSEL: I think he needs to be aggressive but I think the media strategy -- I mean, the media pressure on him is to come across as sorrowful attributes. 47 percent comment, he has to look as though he feels for everybody and is in touch with America. I think you can be aggressive while also speaking for all Americans and that's what he's got to manage to do in the debates.

    GIGOT: Yes. He has to link Obama's policies to the bad economy and explain how they're linked and how his policies would be different and do better.

    When we come back, President Obama says he bears some responsibility for the federal debt that has exploded on his watch, but just how much? We will give you his answer and ours, next.

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    GIGOT: Just call him president 10 percent. That is how much responsibility Mr. Obama will take for the national debt, which has climbed a whopping 60 percent on his watch. That inconvenient fact was pointed out by CBS's Steve Kroft on last Sunday "60 Minutes." And here is what the president had to say.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I came into office, I inherited the biggest deficit in our history. Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren't paid for, as consequence of tax cuts that weren't paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We took some emergency actions but that accounts for 10 percent of this increase in the deficit.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    GIGOT: We've asked Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, to run the numbers, and he joins me now.

    So, James, let's take these one by one. Did President Obama inherit the biggest deficit in American history?

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: It wasn't the biggest and he didn't inherit it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    It was not the biggest as a percentage of GDP. World War II had some bigger deficits.

    GIGOT: Three years.

    FREEMAN: And he didn't really inherit it. He helped create it. Because '09 includes much of the Obama first year in office and especially something he doesn't seem to want to remember, but the stimulus, $800-plus billion.

    GIGOT: As a share of the economy, which is a good way to measure these things, the deficit was 3.2 percent in fiscal 2008. It did balloon to 10.1 percent in fiscal 2009. I would give President Bush some credit for that because, in fact, the recession had started. So that built the recession for the first six months of his term. But what you are saying is, there is this little thing called an $830 billion spending --

    (CROSSTALK)

    FREEMAN: Yes, the stimulus --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: -- in February 2009 --

    FREEMAN: Right.

    GIGOT: -- that he doesn't, President Obama doesn't want to take any credit for, but it passed six months before -- I mean --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: He signed as president.

    FREEMAN: He signed it into law. The stimulus was huge.

    GIGOT: Right.

    FREEMAN: He also signed another omnibus spending bill shortly after that in the spring of 2009. But even in the beginning of fiscal 2009, where he wants to throw it on President Bush, this is when President Obama was in the Senate. He voted for TARP. He had voted for the budget resolution that year. So he really has a hand in all of this spending. You saw in that graph the big spike was in that year of --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Let's take a look at the spending numbers, too, because spending traditionally has been about 18 to 20 percent, sometimes get up to 21 percent of GDP. Under President Obama, it really has spiked to 25 percent of the economy in fiscal 2009 and it stayed very high, above 24 percent.

    FREEMAN: That's right. He has taken us to this new normal level of spending, an unsustainable level, if you look historically. This is why it's all about, for him, trying to deny paternity over that 2009 spending. You look at the chart, it skyrockets. And then we're basically -- been running, during his term, as a percentage of GDP, at a roughly flat level. It's only if he can avoid blame for getting it up to that increased stratospheric level that this seems reasonable.