At tonight's presidential debate, you can expect Mitt "Cut the Spending" Romney to criticize President Obama for allowing the federal debt to balloon while in office. It's become such a common criticism of the president that most won't think anything of it: Obama has always been at war with low deficits, and the GOP has always attacked him for it. 

But flashback a few years to the 2008 debate, and the roles don't seem quite as familiar. Then, Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's choice to succeed a two-term Republican president who had presided over an enormous increase in the debt, was frequently on the offense when it came to the nation's sky high debt and deficits. He would say things like this to his GOP rival, John McCain:

I think it's important just to remember a little bit of history. When George Bush came into office, we had surpluses. And now we have half-a-trillion-dollar deficit annually.

When George Bush came into office, our debt -- national debt was around $5 trillion. It's now over $10 trillion. We've almost doubled it. And so while it's true that nobody's completely innocent here, we have had over the last eight years the biggest increases in deficit spending and national debt in our history. And Senator McCain voted for four out of five of those George Bush budgets.

And this:

Now, the last thing I think we have to focus on is a little bit of history, just so that we understand what we're doing going forward.

When President Bush came into office, we had a budget surplus and the national debt was a little over $5 trillion. It has doubled over the last eight years.

And we are now looking at a deficit of well over half a trillion dollars.
So one of the things that I think we have to recognize is pursuing the same kinds of policies that we pursued over the last eight years is not going to bring down the deficit. And, frankly, Sen. McCain voted for four out of five of President Bush's budgets.

We've got to take this in a new direction, that's what I propose as president.

Here's some more recent history. Since taking office, Obama has run deficits of over a trillion dollars every single year. Total federal debt, in turn, has ballooned to $16 trillion. At this point, the debt has increased more in Obama's single term than in Bush's two. Obama's primary response has been to offer a $4 trillion deficit plan that "virtually no serious budget analyst" believes will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion, and which consists mostly of of budget gimmicks and tax hikes. On the federal budget, Obama didn't take us in a new direction. He took us in the same direction that his predecessor had gone, even faster.