The total federal debt is now at about 74 percent of G.D.P. Under Obama’s plan, it would rise to 78.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2014 and then stabilize at about 76.5 percent from 2018 to 2022.

Basically, what we’re looking at is a period of stability, administration officials say, which would soothe credit markets and give us time to make further adjustments. This, they conclude, is responsible prudence.

I’m not going to pass my own comprehensive judgment on this here. I’ll just say that my conversations reaffirm my conviction that Obama is a pragmatic liberal who cares about fiscal sustainability, who has been willing to compromise for its sake, but who has not offered anything close to a sufficient program to avoid a debt crisis.

But we have a campaign in front of us. If the president is truly committed to a strategy for progressive fiscal stability, as Bill Clinton was, he’ll make that the center of his campaign. He’ll earn a mandate. He’ll win over independents who want fiscal discipline but worry about the way Republicans get there.