Maya MacGuineas: Debate Questions But No Real Answers on National Debt, Social Security

Oct 7, 2016 | Budgets & Projections

Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, analyzed the vice presidential candidates’ answers on how they would address the debt. Her analysis appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It is reposted below.

Fiscal policy was raised during Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, but neither Sen. Tim Kaine nor Gov. Mike Pence directly answered the questions or engaged in substantive discussion about the policy changes needed to deal with the nation’s mounting debt and its under-financed Social Security system.

Promises and Price Tags,” a report recently published by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, projects that the national debt would grow by more than $9 trillion under Hillary Clinton’s policies over the next 10 years and by $14 trillion under Donald Trump’s proposals. Mrs. Clinton’s policies would increase the debt by 86% of gross domestic product. Under Mr. Trump’s policies, the debt would grow to 105% of GDP.

When moderator Elaine Quijano pointed out that neither of the campaigns’ economic plans addresses the national debt, Mr. Pence said that Trump policies would lead to economic growth of 3.5% or 4%. Such growth, he suggested, would deal with the debt challenges. Growth of that rate would be 75% higher than current projections and is unlikely to materialize amid the demographic challenges stemming from the retirement of the baby boomers.

Yes, Mr. Kaine was right when he said that the projected debt increase under Trump proposals is “much, much bigger than anything on the Clinton side,” but he didn’t mention that Mrs. Clinton hasn’t proposed a plan to address the national debt. She has barely mentioned the issue. That’s no way to create a mandate.

The conversation in this election cycle has shaped up as: Which candidate adds least to the debt? That’s a far cry from a responsible discussion: Which candidate has a plan to put U.S. debt on a sustainable path so it’s not growing faster than our country’s economy? By that standard, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump both fall short.

Elections result in someone having to govern. At this point, neither major-party nominee has set him- or herself up to do so fiscally responsibly. And the national debt is growing too fast to assume this issue can be left unaddressed for four more years.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the Committee.