The federal budget deficit is going up. The government’s two largest programs, Social Security and Medicare, are not in sound condition for the future. Federal domestic investments are being squeezed. The tax code is badly in need of repair. And the nation’s debt is on an unsustainable course.
What do the presidential candidates have to say about all this?
To hear the candidates tell it, you would think all is well and the only questions are how much we should cut taxes or increase spending.
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Donald Trump has floated a tax-cut plan that would reduce revenues by roughly $10 trillion over 10 years. Trump’s spending-cut proposals rely on vague promises to cut waste – a frequent dodge of politicians – that would be nowhere near enough to offset the lost revenue of his proposed tax cuts.
Hillary Clinton has proposed more than one trillion dollars of new spending with a roughly equivalent amount of tax increases to pay for it. While her proposals would not dig the hole much deeper, they would use tax increases to pay for new spending rather than to help pay for the unfunded promises the government has already made.
The candidates’ indifference can change, however, as the campaign moves into general election mode. In the coming months the candidates will have at least three opportunities to show leadership on fiscal issues.
First up will be their acceptance speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions.
With a national audience truly tuned in for perhaps the first time, the candidates should explain the budgetary challenges ahead and how their proposals would fit within a responsible fiscal framework.
The second opportunity will likely come in September as Congress is forced to negotiate a budget deal to prevent a government shutdown.
How the candidates respond will give voters a clue as to how each would manage real-world problems. They can choose to lead, which will require some willingness to compromise, or they can retreat to partisan name-calling.
The final opportunity will come with the presidential debates scheduled for Sept. 26, Oct. 9 and Oct. 19. The candidates should be asked then to lay out in detail what they would do to stabilize and eventually reduce our nation’s debt burden.
A substantive debate about our nation’s fiscal future may or may not happen. Two things, however, are certain. The nation faces an unsustainable fiscal future. And the next president will have to present a budget shortly after taking office.
If that budget is to do justice to the magnitude of the problem, the American public must be prepared for difficult choices. So the candidates had better set aside the partisan platitudes and begin to level with voters.
Bixby leads The Concord Coalition.