Steve Chapman

In Wednesday's debate, Mitt Romney said he will "stop the subsidy" to public broadcasting. That's good to know, because Mitt Romney's campaign website says he will merely "reduce subsidies for ... the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

Kill Big Bird or just pluck some of his feathers? Or neither, in keeping with what often happens to promises made by politicians? As Ted Kennedy once said of Romney's abortion policy, "I am pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice."

Barack Obama had a tough time in the debate because he was told he would be debating Mitt Romney, a self-described "severely conservative" Republican who rails against regulation, promises huge tax cuts and has no use for Washington's meddling in private businesses like health insurance. But Mitt Romney had to cancel.

Instead the president found himself facing a last-minute replacement named Mitt Romney, a bipartisan-minded compromiser who says, "You can't have a free market without regulation," vows not to accept any tax cut that would increase the deficit and wants to tell insurance companies whom to insure.

Obama wrote a book called "The Audacity of Hope." But until Wednesday, he never knew the meaning of audacity. Romney left Obama looking like a nearsighted farmer chasing a greased pig in a dark barn.

Reciting his five-point economic plan, the GOP nominee said, "Number four, get us to a balanced budget." He grieved over chronic deficits: "I think it's, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in."

But there's that other Romney. His website page on spending omits any promise or plan to eliminate the deficit. Elsewhere, he has said he would balance the budget in eight to 10 years -- by which time it will be someone else's problem.

The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that Romney's budget plan would increase the federal debt from 73 percent of gross domestic product to 86 percent over the next decade -- even more than Obama's. If reviving the economy requires a balanced budget, we can assume that under Romney it would remain stalled.

You may know the Mitt Romney whose economic program consists mostly of keeping old tax cuts and passing new ones. But Obama found himself debating a candidate who vowed there would be no tax cut if it would enlarge the deficit -- as that other Mitt Romney's program would almost certainly do.

Steve Chapman

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

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