Over the course of the presidential election, we have seen the candidates on both sides of the aisle cover a wide range of issues from taxation to the proper military response to North Korea to immigration.
One topic we have not seen the candidates address sufficiently is the national debt. The U.S. has $19 trillion in debt and we need to hear how the respective candidates plan to repay it.
During President Obama’s first term, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton Administration White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles were tasked with putting together a proposal to address the nation’s fiscal situation and the long term fiscal sustainability of the country. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform put together a plan that was to reduce the federal debt by $2.5 trillion over the course of a decade. In total, the plan was to reduce the federal debt by $5.2 trillion over the course of two or three decades.
To accomplish this savings, the plan included a reformation of federal health care spending, tightening of discretionary spending, implementation of tax reforms, government-wide reforms to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse, and additional spending cuts to programs like subsidies, the postal service, and Pell Grants.
The Simpson-Bowles Plan was on a troublesome path soon after its release.
Seven of the 18 commission members voted against the plan and Congress overwhelmingly voted against a modified version by a 382 to 38 vote. While the plan did not make it through Congress, portions of its framework for cutting discretionary spending passed in the form of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Additionally, portions of the plan’s recommendations for lowering federal health care spending made it into the Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act, part of the Affordable Care Act, though that particular portion was later marked as unworkable and repealed.
According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an offshoot of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, if implemented today, the plan would reduce the federal debt by $2.2 trillion.
In an election season with so much media coverage, I can’t help but notice that the presidential candidates have been largely silent on the issue.
Of the three candidates in the race, Donald Trump is the only one who explicitly discusses the national debt on his campaign site. There, he says that he will lower taxes for everyone, but will ensure that our children are not left with the burden of the $19 trillion debt, though it remains unclear exactly how he would go about doing that.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign platform leans on Wall Street to pay its fair share of taxes in order to pay for his sizable social programs. Hillary Clinton doesn’t propose spending programs nearly the size of Sanders, but also does not spell out how she would address the national debt.
Given this lack of attention to such an important issue, the current political environment does not appear to be one in which national leaders are ready to make a serious effort to address this country’s debt. But it is essential that we do.