Robert L. Bixby and Maya MacGuineas: Candidates need credible solutions to fix the debt

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, and Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, wrote a commentary that appeared in Fosters, a southern New Hampshire publication, on the day of the New Hampshire primary. It is reposted here.

With New Hampshire preparing for the first of this year’s presidential primaries, pundits are arguing about who has the momentum. But Granite Staters should be asking a much more substantive question: which candidate is committed to addressing the national debt?

Whoever becomes the next president will face an unsustainable rise in the debt that threatens to hurt economic growth and reduce living standards for decades to come. While annual deficits have declined in recent years, new projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office show that the era of falling deficits is officially over.

According to CBO, deficits are projected to begin rising again this year and will surpass $1 trillion by 2022. The accumulation of these deficits will drive up the debt – which is already at historically high levels – by more than $10 trillion over the next decade. This is the daunting fiscal picture that awaits the next president, which is why it is so critical that candidates tell voters what they intend to do about it.

In early 2015, we launched First Budget – a joint nonpartisan initiative of The Concord Coalition and the Campaign to Fix the Debt – to raise awareness in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire about the fiscal challenges our country faces. Thanks to a committed army of volunteers and key political, business, and civic leaders, we have directly engaged with presidential candidates in both parties on this issue.

We summarized the results of our efforts in a new report, which found that candidates in both parties acknowledge that the rapidly growing debt is a problem, but for the most part their actual proposals have fallen short of what’s needed.

For example, while some candidates on the GOP side have introduced specific plans to reform entitlement programs and reduce spending, several candidates have also proposed tax plans that will result in significant revenue losses and add trillions of dollars to the debt – even with optimistic economic growth assumptions.

On the Democratic side, the remaining candidates have put forward ways they would pay for their new spending initiatives. But they have failed to pair those plans with additional proposals to rein in the debt. It’s not enough to pay for new spending when the budget we already have is unsustainable.

It is also disappointing that many candidates have tied their hands by taking certain policy options off the table, especially on taxes and entitlements. Leadership requires that candidates leave all policy options on the table to reduce our debt, simplify the tax code, and put the entitlement programs on sustainable tracks.

As the campaign enters a new phase, candidates should show a true commitment to address the debt head-on. They should explain to voters that the debt is more than just an isolated number, and that failure to put the budget on the right track will impact a range of other priorities – including providing national security, growing our economy, investing in our children, and improving the standard of living for all Americans.

The stakes are just too high for candidates to take this issue lightly. New Hampshire voters, and our country as a whole, deserve credible solutions that will secure a better future for us all.

"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.