President Barack Obama once said in the midst of the health care debate that he would rather be a one-term president who tackled tough issues than a two-term president who dodged them.

If the president once believed that, his budget blueprint Monday showed he is now more concerned about winning a second term than providing meaningful leadership on the nation’s most critical issue.

With Americans clamoring for long-term federal debt reduction, the president’s budget is a token gesture that gives the appearance of making a difference but would have minimal effect.

Budget Director Jacob Lew introduced the plan Monday with typical Washington doublespeak.

The proposed budget will cut the deficit in half by the end of the president’s first term, he said.

If you thought he was referring to the $14 trillion standing national debt, as most Americans would, you might be led to believe we would halve that.

Far from it. The president’s budget does nothing but modestly cut the growth rate of each year’s deficit. In other words, we would be adding red ink, but at a slower pace.

The annual federal debt still gallops along for at least the next 10 years. At the end of that time, we would have a $21 trillion debt, another third higher than it is today.

Interest payments alone at that point would be $844 billion per year and would exceed the size of the entire federal budget in 1983.

Last year, President Obama appointed a deficit-reduction commission, which produced a series of realistic ideas for restoring fiscal sanity.

They tackled the most pressing problem of all, entitlements we have promised to current and future retirees. These entitlements are the root of our problem, but the president’s budget is silent on solutions.

Republicans are drafting their own budget, but don’t look for them to be much bolder.

Instead, they are dickering around with a collection of minuscule but crowd-pleasing cuts, like foreign aid and the subsidy for National Public Radio.

Both parties are focused on positioning themselves for 2012: Republicans on retaking the Senate and the presidency; Democrats on picking up seats they lost and on re-electing Obama.

Making even modest cuts in entitlements Americans expect to receive is a proven way not to win elections.

The president could have chosen bold and necessary leadership in his budget proposal. He did not.

Republicans can now choose to provide bold and necessary leadership with theirs. They probably will not.

Some say the timid budget bill is simply a first step in what will become closed-door, bipartisan negotiations in the Senate on a real solution.

That will necessarily include a combination of things nobody wants — long-term entitlement cuts and short-term tax increases.

It’s a simple problem: We take in too little and spend too much.

But the solution will be bitter medicine that politicians do not want to prescribe and the public does not want to swallow.

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