There have been three primetime presidential debates totaling 12 hours with 297 questions asked. And not a single one — not one — was about our deficit or debt. With our national debt currently the highest it’s ever been as a share of the economy except right after WWII, how can it be so willfully ignored?
I am on the board of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is headed by Mitch Daniels, Leon Panetta, Tim Penny, and Maya MacGuineas. We are an organization of dedicated, nonpartisan numbers nerds asking the responsible question: How can we restore fiscal sanity in Washington?
The next president faces rapidly rising deficits and debt, depleting trust funds for Social Security and Medicare, and dramatic economic uncertainty. The numbers are frightening.
We are about to start borrowing a trillion dollars or more every year, forever. As a share of the economy, that’s the highest deficit we’ve ever had during good economic times. Interest payments will more than double over the next 10 years. This year, we will spend $372 billion on interest — more than all income support programs to help low-income populations or half as much as the entire defense budget. That’s money we can’t spend on anything else.
Instead of paying down the debt when the economy is strong, this president and Congress enacted $4 trillion of new debt in the last three years alone through unpaid-for tax cuts and spending increases. It was a bipartisan debt binge.
And while we add new debt at a record rate, our nation’s largest trust funds are rapidly running out of money.
The Social Security retirement program is projected to run out full funding by 2035, only 16 years from now. At that point, unless something is done to save the program, every single Social Security beneficiary will see an immediate 20% cut in benefits.
Don’t think this is a problem for the next generation. That is when today’s newest retirees are 78.
There are 200,000 seniors in Philadelphia over age 65, and another 180,000 between 55 and 64, an age where workers start to think about getting Social Security benefits soon.
Even the average 34-year-old today faces a $133,000 cut in lifetime benefits unless Congress acts.
Yet Social Security has also been missing from the 12 hours so far of presidential debates.
Here is a kicker — it took $509,078,082 in interest payments to service the debt during those 12 hours.
The debt is also holding back our paychecks. Average income will be 10% lower after 30 years if policymakers continue our current debt path instead of returning it to historical averages, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
When I served in the House of Representatives, I took a very controversial and difficult vote in 1993. Billed as the "Deficit Reduction Measure," it both cut spending and raised taxes a bit. Most economic experts agree this bill is a big reason that, for the first time in modern history, the U.S. experienced budget surpluses in the late 1990s.
It is one of those votes you know is for the good of the whole nation and worth the political risk, and I paid the ultimate political price for it. A lot of members of Congress met in the middle and took that tough vote with me.
How can our nation have squandered the surpluses in less than two decades? We went from projections showing the national debt paid off completely at the turn of the century in 2000 to our current path where the debt could be triple the size of the economy in about 40 years. Our children and grandchildren are inheriting a mess.
Fixing the debt is a must; we need to do it now, phased-in over time. Not when our back is against a wall, and all fiscal hell has broken loose.
It starts with independently analyzing the fiscal proposals of our presidents and presidential candidates.
The next president will face that tough choice, and not one candidate has a plan for it. They haven’t even been asked for one.