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Kasich's Moment of Truth Comes on Budget Day

Kasich has made his budget chops a big part of his argument to be president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is his last stand, and the pivotal election of his career comes, coincidentally, on Budget Day, when proposed federal spending levels are released. The budget is an issue to which Kasich traces his biggest accomplishments, and he has embraced those in his run for the presidency.  

"You know what this is? This is sloppy," Kasich said Monday afternoon at a town hall in Windham, N.H., pointing to a "Our National Debt" clock that kept adding to its $19 trillion-plus total as he spoke. "This lacks discipline. This is a bunch of people who are not doing their jobs," he said. Then he made his pitch, an unabashed one to his time in Washington when he was the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee. "We can't seem to control this. When I was in Washington, we did," he said. Kasich was Budget chairman from 1995 through 2000, years when budget matters animated national politics. He was a key player in negotiating with the GOP Senate and Democratic President Bill Clinton on a deficit reduction pattern that led to a budget surplus, and he’s presided over a budget turnaround in the Buckeye State as well.  

"I have balanced budgets, the federal budget, the state of Ohio budget, we’re running a $2 billion dollar surplus, we’re up 400,000 jobs, and in Washington we were able to have significant job growth whenever we balanced the budget of which I was the architect," Kasich said at the Feb. 6 GOP debate.  

In this campaign season, candidates have tried to tap into an outsider sentiment, particularly with trust in institutions like Congress at an ebb flow. But Kasich was unabashed in embracing his political experience in D.C., saying he would draw on it as president.  

"When you go from $8 billion in the hole to $2 billion in the black, when you cut taxes by $5 billion and you grow over 400,000 jobs, that is a record that I can take to Washington, using the same formula that I used in Washington when I was part of the effort to balance the budget to give us a surplus and to create jobs," he added later on in the debate.  

The budget has been creeping back into the political landscape. On Jan. 25, the Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating that the budget deficit for 2016 would increase after six years of declines.  

The nonpartisan CBO estimated that the 2016 deficit would be $544 billion. That would be $105 billion more than the deficit recorded last year. Furthermore, it estimated that, at 2.9 percent of gross domestic product, the expected shortfall for 2016 would mark the first time the deficit rose in relation to the size of the economy since it peaked at 9.8 percent of GDP in 2009.  

Then congressional Republicans tweaked the White House last week when the House and Senate Budget Committee chairmen, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., announced they were not interested in hearing Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan testify before their panels after President Barack Obama releases his fiscal 2017 budget on Tuesday.  

But on the trail, Kasich hasn't shied away from touting his work with the other side of the aisle — including a president named Clinton — even though he speculates he might have been damaged in the GOP primary because of it.  

"When you balance as many budgets as I have, have cut as much taxes, been for as much school choice, reformed welfare, ended the entitlements — go through all this, grow government at a very small amount. I don't understand it other than maybe sometimes I say we need to work together with the Democrats," he said on CNN .  

Kasich's work on fiscal matters goes back decades. In 1995, after Republicans took over the majority in the House and Senate, he used his gavel on the Budget Committee to conduct a series of field hearings that stretched from Kasich's home in Columbus to Prescott, Ariz.; Columbia, S.C.; Manville, N.J.; and Billings, Mont.  

Kasich's plan was to solicit the views of everyday Americans, and the hearings embraced a come-one, come-all approach. In Prescott, Arizona's territorial capital and the place where Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., started and ended his campaigns, Kasich and the panel, which included Democrat Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota, the Budget panel's ranking member, sat and listened for hours.  

"We want you to give us whatever suggestions you have in terms of how we can bring greater efficiency to the operation of the federal government," Kasich said on Jan. 28, 1995 at Prescott's Elks Theater. "I want you all to know that this is not just some kind of a media event or some kind of a road show. We are out because we believe that for too long, the American people have essentially not been listened to, and that this is an effort to do everything we can in this setting," he added.  

Twenty-one years, one unsuccessful run for president in 2000 and two terms as a governor later, Kasich hopes that same kind of approach will yield  a strong showing in New Hampshire and keep his candidacy alive.  

Contact Dick at jasondick@rollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @jasonjdick.

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