The debates demonstrated the candidate's differences when it comes to balancing the budget.
LEHRER: what are you going to have to give up, in terms of the priorities that you would bring as president of the United States, as a result of having to pay for the financial rescue plan?OBAMA: Well, there are a range of things that are probably going to have to be delayed...But there's no doubt that we're not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done. There are some things that I think have to be done.We have to have energy independence...We have to fix our health care system...The third thing we have to do is we've got to make sure that we're competing in education. We've got to invest in science and technology...And one of the things I think we have to do is make sure that college is affordable for every young person in America.And I also think that we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure...Also, making sure that we have a new electricity grid to get the alternative energy to population centers that are using them...LEHRER: ...what priorities would you adjust, as president, Senator McCain, because of the -- because of the financial bailout cost?MCCAIN: Look, we, no matter what, we've got to cut spending. We have -- as I said, we've let government get completely out of control....we need to examine every agency of government.First of all, by the way, I'd eliminate ethanol subsidies. I oppose ethanol subsidies.I think that we have to return -- particularly in defense spending, which is the largest part of our appropriations -- we have to do away with cost-plus contracts... LEHRER: But if I hear the two of you correctly neither one of you is suggesting any major changes in what you want to do as president as a result of the financial bailout? Is that what you're saying?OBAMA: No. As I said before, Jim, there are going to be things that end up having to be ... deferred and delayed. Well, look, I want to make sure that we are investing in energy in order to free ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil. That is a big project. That is a multi-year project.LEHRER: Not willing to give that up?OBAMA: Not willing to give up the need to do it but there may be individual components that we can't do. But John is right we have to make cuts. We right now give $15 billion every year as subsidies to private insurers under the Medicare system...LEHRER: ...one of you is going to be the president of the United States come January. At the -- in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved. And what I'm trying to get at is how this is going to affect you not in very specific -- small ways but in major ways and the approach to take as to the presidency.MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs...LEHRER: Would you go for that?OBAMA: The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded. I want to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn't make sense.
So after being pressed on it, Obama (1) suggested delaying some of his $500 billion in new spending - but refused to identify which components (in other words, he'll take credit for cutting whatever doesn't pass Congress) and (2) suggested to offset his $500 billion spending increase with $15 billion in "savings" by having the government take over part of the health care system. (After all, they did such a bang-up job with the Walter Reed Medical Center.)McCain, on the other hand, listed ethanol subsidies ($7 billion), cost-plus-contracts, and an overall spending freeze on discretionary items (~$22 billion). Obama called this a hatchet (it's more like a razor blade) and once again emphasized how we need to increase spending.