On Thursday night, I listened to President Barack Obama with one issue in mind: the deficit.
I didnt come away convinced.
Heres the key quote from his speech to the Democratic National Convention, an appeal for a deficit-cutting consensus: Im still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission.
Sounds encouraging, but the record isnt as friendly to the president. Lets review it one more time, because its important.
In 2010, Obama convened an 18-member panel to look for debt-cutting options. Quickly dubbed the Simpson-Bowles commission for former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Clinton the group settled on a plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion.
The plan contained pain to go around cuts in everything from Medicare payments to student loan subsidies to farm subsidies; tax reform; and, eventually, increases in gas taxes and Social Security taxes.
The plan received 11 yes votes in committee; Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo was among the supporters. But the panels ground rules were deliberately strict. Without 14 yes votes from the panel, the plan didnt go straight to Congress for a vote.
Instead, in December 2010, the blueprint went to Obama, who hasnt pushed it. That inertia, in part, gave birth to the Gang of Six, a bipartisan Senate panel that picked up where Simpson-Bowles left off. Crapo is a Gang of Six member.
While Obama publicly praised the Gang of Sixs efforts, his embrace of Simpson-Bowles rings hollow. However, its not as big as the whopper we heard last week from GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan who ripped Obama for ignoring Simpson-Bowles, while conveniently neglecting to mention his own opposition to the plan in committee.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, voiced his disappointment Friday. Not only did the president fail to take ownership of (the Simpson-Bowles) ideas at the time they were released, his own budgets have failed to push them forward or indicate any movement in the direction of those recommendations. That is a failure of leadership on the part of the president on the single largest issue facing our country and nothing I heard him say last night gives me much confidence he is going to start leading now.
Simpsons comments must be viewed in the context of an election but should also be viewed in the context of his efforts to forge a bipartisan debt-cutting coalition in the House.
I dont usually like to judge any candidate on one issue, but at the federal level, the deficit is as good a single issue as you can find. The answers affect what we can (responsibly) spend on federal programs; the long-term health of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; tax policy; and, ultimately, the health of the economy.
On this issue, both conventions served up leftover politics as usual. Disappointing.
THE ABORTION PLATFORM
On the eve of the Republican National Convention, I wrote about the GOPs no-exceptions platform opposing abortion. This plank is more stringent than the positions taken by Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch and Simpson, abortion opponents who make exceptions for cases of rape or incest, or pregnancies threatening the life of the mother.
The Democrats plank is almost a 180 and read, by critics, as an expression of support for taxpayer-funded abortions.
Heres an excerpt: The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a womans right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.
Where do Idaho congressional candidates stand?
Nicole LeFavour, challenging Simpson, sent a brief, direct response. She said she supports the plank and calls it well-stated.
Said Jimmy Farris, opposing GOP 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador: I do not disagree with the party platform; however, the feelings of the many female constituents that I meet as I travel the district are what are truly important to me. ... The very definition of freedom is that a woman can make that choice for herself without government intrusion without choice there is no freedom.
Farris cautious statement still shows a sharp distinction between these two candidates. Labrador supports abortion only when a mothers life is in jeopardy.
I dont think abortion should be a focal point in Idaho congressional races not when the economy and the aforementioned deficit should take precedence. But on this issue, the differences between the major candidates couldnt be more clear.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert