It would have been hard to imagine a more appropriate time for the two presidential candidates to discuss government spending and the long-term debt than at Monday night’s first nationally televised president debate at Hofstra University in New York.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have engaged for months in a high-stakes bidding war for voter allegiance with pricey domestic and defense spending and tax proposals that could drive the historic $19.5 trillion national debt much higher in the coming decade.
And indeed, the two arch political rivals spent the first 40 minutes of their historic encounter dueling over their conflicting visions of economic reforms to spur the creation of millions of new jobs without substantially adding to the debt.
Trump once again denounced Clinton and the Obama administration for “disastrous” energy and trade policies, wasteful spending initiatives, and excessive government regulations that he blamed for driving millions of U.S. jobs overseas and slowing the economic recovery.
Summing up many of Clinton’s new proposals for strategic investments in alternative energy production, higher education and health care, Trump told Clinton, “You can’t do what you’re looking to do with $20 trillion in debt.”
“Under my plan, I will be reducing taxes tremendously,” Trump added. “That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan and it will be a beautiful thing to watch.”
Clinton, for her part, blasted Trump’s proposals for trillions of dollars in new tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses, including new loopholes that would benefit his own businesses. She described Trump’s approach to tax relief as a return to the failed Republican policies of “trickle down” economics – one that offered little for the middle class.
“We need to have a tax system that rewards work and not just financial transactions,” Clinton said. “The kind of plan that Donald has put forth would be trickle-down economics all over again . . . I call it the trumped up trickle down.”
Yet by the time the dust had settled from the critically important 90-minute political slugfest, very little had been said by either candidate on how they would address the nation’s long-term budget challenges and what they would do to bring the deficit and debt under control.
The reality is that while both candidates pay lip service to concerns about the rising debt, fiscal discipline is the antithesis of both candidates’ political messages as they appeal to their key constituencies.
Clinton, the former secretary of state, is targeting middle-class voters and young people on the far left who previously supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s chief Democratic primary rival. Over the past year, she has spelled out a refined an ambitious $1.6 trillion agenda of investment in higher education and free college tuition, major health care initiatives and a massive new round of highway and other infrastructure programs.
In order to pay for her proposals, Clinton would ask Congress to raise $1.4 trillion in new taxes, mostly on the wealthy. Nonetheless, her plan would still add about $200 billion to the debt in the coming years, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).
Trump, the billionaire real estate businessman, has solidified his support among conservatives and many independents pledging to spend an additional $2 trillion in the coming decade on defense, veteran’s health care, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, child care tax benefits and preservation of Medicare coverage.
His most recent proposals to provide tax deductions and credits for family leave and child care are squarely aimed at attracting better-educated women and suburban soccer moms who are turned off by his coarse rhetoric and anti-immigrant proposals.
While insisting he would find ways to offset much of that new spending, Trump would nonetheless add a staggering $5.3 trillion to the long-term debt with major tax cuts on individuals and businesses, according to the CRFB analysis. That analysis does not include the economic growth of as much as five percent over the coming years that Trump and his economists claim will be generated by investment, new jobs and increased taxes to pay for the tax cut.
Many mainstream economists have disputed Trump’s rosy economic forecasts, and last night Clinton cited independent economic experts who predict the billionaire’s tax plan “would blow up the debt by over $5 trillion” and eliminate 3.5 million jobs.
By the time the dust had settled from the critically important 90-minute political slugfest last night, very little had been said by either candidate on how they would address the nation’s long-term budget challenges and what they would do to bring the deficit and debt under control.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has warned that the national debt is racing well ahead of prior projections and could reach an historic 141 percent of the overall economy by 2046. A fast aging population and mounting spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the key drivers that threaten to bankrupt the trust funds and cheat future generations out of benefits.
Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a government spending watchdog, said last night, “Sadly, the debt never came up as an issue.”
“Trump mentioned it in passing and Clinton mentioned how Trump’s plan might increase the deficit, but there was no discussion of why the debt is a problem and what to do about it,” Bixby said in an email. “That’s a missed opportunity because unsustainable debt does impact future prosperity, which was the focus of the first segment of the debate.”
“The nation’s mounting debt remains one of the biggest challenges facing our next president,” Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA director who serves as co-chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said earlier in the evening. “Failure to address the national debt will severely hinder our next president’s ability to deliver on their economic programs, protect national security, and maintain our global leadership in the world.”