Obama and Democrats argue that entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are vital to the social contract to provide contributing citizens with basic needs, and that government also has a role to play in education and technological development while providing services such as national defense and disaster relief.
Republicans, driven by the party's conservative wing, call for immediate steps to erase the chronic budget deficits and mounting federal debt that they say imperil national security and stability. They want to shrink the size of government and reduce taxes while reforming entitlements by partial privatization, reducing and delaying some benefits and other steps.
Sensitive issues such as disaster relief generally play to the advantage of Democrats and their support for government benefits, especially in a time of crisis when images of suffering victims dominate the airwaves.
Obama has avoided any direct political talk in recent days as the huge storm approached the Eastern seaboard, canceling campaign events and focusing his attention on the administration's response. In statements Monday and Tuesday on the storm and its aftermath, he emphasized the need for a collective response while also making sure to point out the federal role in relief efforts.
"We've been able to get over 1,000 FEMA officials in place, pre-positioned," the president said. "We've been able to get supplies, food, medicine, water, emergency generators, to ensure that hospitals and law enforcement offices are able to stay up and running as they are out there responding."
He also sounded a main campaign theme by ensuring those hit hardest by the storm that his administration and the entire nation were with them.
"This is a tough time for millions of folks across the Eastern seaboard, but America is tougher and we are tougher because we pull together, we don't leave anybody behind, we make sure that we respond as a nation," Obama said.
At about the same time he spoke, the White House announced that Obama will travel to New Jersey on Wednesday "where he will join Gov. Christie in viewing the storm damage, talking with citizens who are recovering from the storm and thanking first responders who put their lives at risk to protect their communities."
While the president and one of Romney's top supporters will be photographed together responding to disaster, Romney is scheduled to be in Florida for three campaign events.