WASHINGTON -- "To cut the deficit, we need everyone to pay their fair share."
That's how President Barack Obama ended a 30-second commercial his reelection campaign released on Tuesday.
Obama is now playing deficit hawk as well as populist. And it looks like an attempt to turn the fight over the Bush tax cuts from a one-front war into a two-front conflict.
The one-front war is Obama arguing that the rich should pay more because that is only fair, and Romney arguing that they should not because any tax increase in a stagnant economy will impair economic growth. To an electorate that wants results more than anything, Obama's fairness argument puts him at a disadvantage, even though it has undoubtedly paid off with blue-collar voters in industrial swing states.
A two-front battle is Obama maintaining the fairness argument while trying to undercut Romney's advantage among voters for whom fiscal responsibility is a top priority. And that's a lot of voters.
The president has fallen far short of fulfilling the promise he made soon after taking office in 2009 that he would cut the $1.3 trillion deficit in half by the end of his first term. In fact, the White House projected this week that this year's deficit will be $1.2 trillion, and barely below $1 trillion in the 2013 fiscal year.
Obama has been arguing for some time that Romney's tax plan will add $5 trillion to the deficit. But he got some ammunition Wednesday from the Tax Policy Center, when Urban Institute-Brookings Institution joint venture issued a report saying that Romney's plan to cut rates for all tax brackets, lower the corporate rate, and keep taxes on investments low, without adding to the deficit, would require taxes to go up for middle- and low-income earners.
"It's either a middle-class tax increase or it increases the deficit," an Obama policy adviser, who was not authorized to talk to the press on the record, told The Huffington Post.
And there you have it. Obama's brief is that Romney is either going to screw the working-class or that he'll be a fiscal profligate. And it doesn't hurt if voters hear both messages.
The Romney campaign disputed the Tax Policy Center report, telling The Huffington Post that it did not take into account ways in which Romney's plan would produce economic growth.
The Tax Policy Center report did not account for any impact on growth from lowering the corporate rate, or from cutting the size of the federal government. There are three legs of the stool for Romney to offset immediate revenue losses from tax cuts: spending cuts, eliminating tax loopholes, and mid- to long-term economic growth.
But eliminating loopholes only goes so far until it begins to touch the middle and lower-class, as the Tax Policy Center report demonstrated.
"Obviously the tax cuts are the dessert, and they are eager to have the fight about that," the Obama adviser said of the Romney campaign. "And the point of today's report is there's no easy way to get there."
The economic growth that might result from tax cuts is hard to predict. And so this debate over how Romney would avoid blowing up the deficit, if it continues, will move toward how much Romney would cut from domestic spending. That plays into Obama's hands as well.
"We are going to continue to try and illustrate the depth of the cuts that would need to be made in the domestic spending programs if we're going to meet the targets that he has laid out," the Obama adviser said.
Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/obama-birth-certificate-r_n_854248.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 27, 2011) --</strong></a> The White House <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate" target="_hplink">released</a> President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 1, 2011)</strong></a> -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/obama-debt-ceiling-deal-jobs_n_916285.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Aug. 2, 2011) --</strong></a> After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/barack-obama-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-statement_n_971662.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Sept. 20, 2011) --</strong></a> As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/obama-iraq-troop-withdrawal_n_1024108.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Oct. 21, 2011) --</strong></a> Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/obama-al-green-apollo-theater_n_1218070.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 20, 2012) --</strong></a> During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.
Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/obama-sings-sweet-home-chicago_n_1292576.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Feb. 21, 2012) --</strong></a> Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."
Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 9, 2012) --</strong></a> In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html " target="_hplink"><strong>(June 15, 2012) --</strong></a> The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-health-care-decision_n_1585131.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(June 28, 2012) --</strong></a> After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/obama-health-care-ruling_n_1632953.html" target="_hplink">Obama said</a>. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)