For the past four years, President Obama has been relentlessly focused on deficits. There was the Simpson-Bowles commission, followed by years of negotiations with Republicans over what programs to cut, whether to raise taxes, whether they could achieve a grand bargain, whether it would be a mini-bargain. The discussion probably faced its peak moment early last year, when Obama stopped the usual practice of using his budget to show his vision for the country and instead incorporated a deficit reduction package that he offered House Speaker John Boehner as a compromise. It went nowhere.
But now Obama seems to be giving deficits a big "whatever." While his upcoming budget will surely include deficit reduction measures, he's no longer focused on the issue. The White House let it be known Thursday that the president would instead focus on spending to boost the economy and middle class. White House advisers argued that the deficit has come down a lot, meaning that we should worry less about it.
Obama is on safe political ground here. The American people don't care very much about deficits anymore, either. According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the deficit is not among the top five policy concerns for the first time in Obama's tenure. Sixty-three percent of Americans say it's a top priority, down from 72 percent a year ago, below strengthening the nation's economy, improving job creation, defending the country from terrorism, improving the educational system and making the Social Security system sound.
Pew reports that the deficit became a top policy priority during Obama's first term but is now declining among all groups -- Republicans, independents and, most of all, Democrats.