In the weeks and months leading to the 2016 presidential election, we’ll hear an array of promises and economic plans being advanced by candidates of all political persuasions. That is nothing new. But as shown so clearly over the past decade, the fiscal decisions made by our presidents — aided and abetted by members of Congress — are implemented not under balanced budgets but by deficit spending. As a consequence, America’s national debt has more than doubled over the past 10 years — from $7.9 trillion on Sept. 30, 2005, to nearly $18.2 trillion last week.
The Concord Coalition, a nationwide, nonpartisan grassroots organization advocating responsible fiscal policy, believes it’s essential that the nation’s leaders address the dangers posed by unsustainable budget policies. To that end, the coalition and the Campaign to Fix the Debt have joined forces in the First Budget initiative, and will pose the following question to every presidential candidate: “If you are elected our next president, what will you do in your first budget to address the national debt?”
Recent long-term projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) paint a frighteningly stark picture: If current laws remained generally unchanged, federal debt held by the public would exceed 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2040 and continue on an upward path relative to the size of the economy. Such a path will eventually have cataclysmic consequences. Think Greece.
The First Budget initiative will ask the 2016 presidential candidates to do several things during their campaigns:
- Acknowledge that the long-term debt is a serious problem.
- Make dealing with the debt a top policy priority in their campaign.
- Put forward a plan for what they would do, not what they wouldn’t do.
- Explain how they would pay for their policy initiatives.
- Use their platform to engage and educate the public about the tough choices in order to prepare for action, once in office.
In a recent opinion column published by the Nashua Telegraph, two members of the First Budget New Hampshire cabinet — Harold Janeway, a former Democratic state senator, and Ed Dupont, a former Republican state Senate president — observed that candidates shy away from addressing the underlying issues that continue driving the national debt upward.
“Republicans who have been coming to New Hampshire in advance of our first-in-the-nation primary tend to promote the economic benefits of lower taxes and reduced spending,” they wrote. “By contrast, Democrats tend to emphasize the economic benefits of more investment spending funded by higher taxes on the wealthy. These are legitimate debates. But the new CBO report makes the biggest fiscal challenge clear: an aging population and rising health care costs will dramatically increase pressure on the federal budget from entitlement programs over the next 25 years. The projected gap between government spending and revenue under current policies is simply unsustainable.”
Consider this: By the end of the next president’s theoretical second term, the major health and retirement programs — Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security — and interest on the federal debt will account for over two-thirds of total spending. By 2030, 100 percent of the revenue collected will go toward interest payments and “mandatory spending” for those entitlement programs, leaving no room for the spending controlled through the annual appropriations process, which includes education, infrastructure, research and development and national defense.
In future columns, we will address in more detail the major issues indentified by the Concord Coalition in its First Budget initiative. As the coalition points out: “This is no time for false promises, vague rhetoric and petty partisan jabs. Voters should insist on credible solutions — the more specific, the better. Some of these solutions won’t be easy, but doing nothing is the height of fiscal and generational irresponsibility.”