Steve Chapman

The same criticisms, however, apply to Obama. His proposals would cost some $293 billion a year, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation -- compared to $92 billion a year for McCain. (And that doesn't include the cost of the financial sector bailout measures.)

Like McCain, he chooses not to pay for all of it. Compared to current policies, the Tax Policy Center says Obama would boost revenue by an average of just $60 billion per year. So of his new spending, only one-fifth would be financed with new revenue.

The Obama campaign says he would pay for some of his ventures by cutting existing programs. But he hasn't disclosed how. More than half of his budget cuts are "unspecified" -- another way of saying they are 1) imaginary or 2) not happening. Under Obama, the overall burden of government would grow. So would the national debt.

One of the most illuminating parts of the debate came when someone asked the candidates what sacrifices they would ask of Americans. McCain said that he would assess every federal program and "eliminate those that aren't working." Not that he could name one.

Obama was no more helpful. He encouraged Americans to conserve energy. Both of them vowed to take on ballooning entitlements, and both declined to explain how.

"They don't make any of the tough choices," despairs Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "Not even close."

For all their differences, Obama and McCain agree on one central policy: to go on living in Fiscal Fairyland. It will be nice while it lasts.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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