Wednesday night, Mitt Romney played the morals card. During the debate, he stated that the budget deficit is not just an economic issue, but moral as well. What Romney was referring to was the supposed moral violation of borrowing money that will have to be paid back by future generations. I think most Americans would agree. It really isn’t OK for the federal government to borrow trillions of dollars, allowing for debt to accrue and passing the bill onto the next generation. What I found most compelling about this statement, however, was the use of the term “moral.”

We’re not talking about far-right religious morals. This morality is one of simple right and wrong — morals in their most basic sense. I find it interesting that Romney would reference morality when talking about deficit reduction, given his policies and his choice of running mate.

“The Path to Prosperity,” better known as Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s budget proposal passed by House Republicans, calls for massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Pell Grants. This essentially amounts to balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. In a recent New York Times article, Larkin Warren, a self-professed “former welfare mom” told her story of getting through four years of college by heavily relying on government assistance. She took out student loans, accepted Pell Grants and used food stamps. Her road was an arduous one, but with perseverance, hard work and a lot of help, she eventually graduated and found gainful employment.

Romney’s injection of morality into the debate will likely go unnoticed, but it shouldn’t. The plans that he and his running mate have put forward are, at best, of questionable morality. Though Romney and Ryan both preach “self-reliance” in accordance with their religious morals, they’re largely dodging the elephant in the room. Cutting welfare, whether it’s for students, the elderly, children or just people down on their luck, is horrifically immoral. People need these programs, especially during a period of economic crisis — not just to advance in society, but to get by day-to-day. If Romney wants to talk morals, he needs to justify how he can propose hurting the poor so badly to balance the budget.

Yes, I realize that paying off our federal debt would be a moral achievement. The massive debt we carry makes our country extremely vulnerable, as well as weak in diplomatic relations. It would be good for us to be debt-free, or at least minimally in debt. But we cannot alleviate this problem on the backs of our poor. The people in this country who have the hardest lives already shouldn’t be asked to sacrifice even more when there are other ways to balance the budget.

As President Obama asserted, the very wealthiest in America can afford to pay a little more. I’m not proposing we balance the budget purely through increased taxes on the rich — that isn’t moral either. Plus, it would staunch economic growth. The facts, however, are that the richest 1 percent of the country own more than 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and pay historically low tax rates. Everyone needs to pay his or her fair share, especially those who can afford a little extra. By increasing taxes, we can begin to cut down our deficit while still providing essential services to grow the economy.

I commend Romney for bringing morals into the discussion — morals, after all, are the basis of law. Romney’s ideas on economic morals, however, are just plain backward. If I were President Obama, I’d be sure to point that out at the next debate, especially considering the sharp contrast his economic policies present. Romney was the clear winner of Wednesday night’s debate, but he shouldn’t have been. After taking such extreme positions during the primary, not to mention a slew of gaffes and Obama’s campaign ads — which have painted a less than flattering picture of the former governor — I was expecting Romney to be left in the dust during the first debate. President Obama, however, faltered, while Romney pounded his best talking points home.

Here’s a piece of advice for the president: if he wants to win, he should remind everyone that the guy at the other podium wants to decrease help for the poor. Then he should ask the American people if they’d consider someone willing to do that to be “moral.”

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