Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The debt limit battle is heating up, the second of three 2011 heavyweight budget fights whose outcome could have a major impact on the 2012 presidential election.

The national debt will near its statutory limit of $14.3 trillion next week unless Congress allows the Treasury to continue borrowing enough money to pay the government's bills. House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that Republicans would let this happen only if President Barack Obama and the Democrats agree to major budget reductions, with no tax increases.

The GOP's demand: $2 trillion in spending cuts or it's no deal.

The American people are justifiably fed up with deepening deficits and debts that have weakened our economy and undermined future prosperity. They don't like the out-of-control spending of the past two years, nor the gimmicks that have permeated budget policies. They want the political game-playing to stop and the adults to take charge of reining in spending without endangering economic growth and new job creation.

President Obama has been lurching all over the place on budget strategy, throwing down the gauntlet against Republican budget cuts in last month's speech, which was dripping in presidential politics and offered little in the way of significant budget cuts.

The spendthrift budget plan the president submitted in February for 2012 was dressed in nice-sounding words that hid its true intent. "Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt," he wrote in his budget.

"Fine words. Unfortunately, his budget is almost a line-by-line repudiation of this policy," Heritage Foundation economist J. D. Foster wrote in a budgetary analysis then. Under Obama's budgets, the deficit this year will swell to a record $1.645 trillion, and the national public debt over 10 years would rise by $7.2 trillion, Foster says.

The president's words are "couched in terms of fiscal restraint and fiscal discipline. The numbers tell a different story," he adds.

But then Obama's polling numbers, giving him poorer marks on budget policy, forced a change in tone if not in strategy.

This week, in an hour-long strategy session with Democratic leaders in Congress, Obama urged them to cool their rhetoric in the negotiations to come and warned them not to "draw a line in the sand."

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.