Dems defend Obama on debt, say balancing budget now a bad idea

After a week of withering attacks on President Obama's fiscal record, top Democrats on Sunday defended the president's plans for shaving down the deficit -- but said balancing the budget now would actually be a bad idea.

Senior campaign adviser David Axelrod, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," repeated claims that Obama's plan would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade, bringing  the budget shortfall down to a point that would "stabilize" the debt.

"And then, with growth, we'll be in a position to begin reducing it further," he said.

But, when pressed, Axelrod would not say when the president's plan could bring the budget into balance. With the deficit clocking in at more than $1 trillion once again this year, he suggested that's not the goal in the near-term.

"What's necessary is to stabilize the debt and then work from there," he said. "You can't balance the budget in the short term, because to do that would be to ratchet down the economy."

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Axelrod was referring to warnings that to act too quickly to close the deficit would deprive the economy of needed federal dollars at a time when it is barely growing and is creating jobs at a still-modest pace.

A recent Congressional Budget Office report said that if tax rates rise and sweeping defense cuts go into effect as planned in January, it could result in the economy contracting by .5 percent and unemployment rising to 9.1 percent -- even though the tax hikes and defense cuts would help to close the deficit.

The unemployment rate now is 8.3 percent.

But the Obama campaign remains at risk of appearing reluctant to act on the deficit, as the debt nears $16 trillion and interest payments on that debt rise. Republicans hammered that vulnerability this past week at their convention in Tampa, displaying two giant debt clocks in the convention hall and repeatedly noting that the debt had risen $5 trillion under his watch.

Axelrod, though, said Republicans -- with their plans to cut taxes for the middle class and the wealthy -- "are not credible on the deficit."

Though GOP running mate Paul Ryan hammered the president for ignoring the plan put out by his own deficit-reduction commission, Axelrod pointed out that Ryan didn't vote for that plan either.

"(Obama) didn't let it die on the vine," he claimed, suggesting it informed his own proposals.

The only reason that won't pass, he said, is Republicans won't raise taxes. Republicans claim Democrats are the ones holding back a balanced budget by refusing to compromise on entitlements.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democrats' convention, claimed on "Fox News Sunday" that Obama is ready to address entitlement reform.

"He has made it absolutely clear he is willing to work on a bipartisan basis to address things like Social Security," he said.

The Obama campaign, though, has spent the last several weeks hammering Ryan's plan to "voucherize" Medicare without touting any particular plan of its own to address Medicare's gaping deficits.

Democratic advisers were blanketing the airwaves Sunday in the run-up to this week's Charlotte convention. They're trying to recapture the spotlight and reframe their candidate after a week of GOP attacks on the incumbent.

Mitt Romney, in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday, argued that Obama's campaign does not meet a simple test -- in that Americans, he said, are not better off today than when he took office.

"This president can ask us to be patient. This president can tell us it was someone else's fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he'll get it right," he said. "But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office."

Axelrod, though, said the campaign can say "we're in a better position than we were four years ago."

"The average American recognizes that it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 ... and it's going to take some time to work through it," he said.