Debate questioners, please ask this
“As president, what would you do to balance the federal budget and reduce the national debt?”
That’s a simple, straightforward question about an important issue affecting every American. So it’s odd it hasn’t been asked once in 14 hours of Democratic presidential debates this year.
The candidates have been asked 374 questions so far, according to Fix the Debt, a project of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Not once have they been asked about the federal government spending an estimated $984 billion this past fiscal year that it did not have.
That’s almost $3,000 for every American man, woman and child. Uncle Sam spent $4.446 trillion but only collected $3.462 trillion. The candidates have not been asked about the cumulative national debt, accrued over centuries, now being almost $23 trillion, or more than $69,500 for every American.
They have not been asked about how to address the looming shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare.
The lack of questions is illustrative of the country’s collective blind eye regarding these inconvenient truths. The United States has been in debt since the Revolutionary War, except for a brief period in the 1830s when it paid everything off. But the debt has been growing exponentially in recent years. It took 210 years to reach
$5.67 trillion by Sept. 20, 2000. The debt has grown $17.27 trillion since then. It was a little less than $20 trillion the day President Trump took office. It’s grown about $3 trillion in less than three years.
And yet the debt registers so little on the public consciousness that debate questioners haven’t felt compelled to ask a single question about it. It’s a problem but not a crisis – yet – and there’s always another crisis calling for immediate attention. We all know we can’t keep spending money we don’t have forever, but we also know we can probably keep doing it a while longer. So we’ll talk about something else for now.
Such an attitude is as disastrous for a country as it is for a family or a business. If a family were spending $45,000 a year but only earning $35,000, it had better discuss where it can cut back on expenses and maybe earn some extra money. A business with $450,000 in expenditures but only $350,000 in revenues must figure out how to stop digging itself into that hole.
Be not deceived: The same applies to the federal government. It takes longer to reap what you sow, but eventually you will reap. The nation must have a conversation about its own irresponsibility. Elections are the ideal time to have that conversation. And it starts with putting the candidates on the record regarding what they would do about this issue.
I’ll finish this column with a confession and then a personal anecdote. The confession is, I haven’t watched a minute of these debates live. I’m relying on Fix the Debt.
The personal anecdote is that I’ve been a questioner several times for AETN’S televised debates here in Arkansas, so I can sympathize with the people I’m now criticizing.
It’s somewhat of a hopeless task. As a questioner, you want to ask something that forces the candidates to address difficult issues they’d rather ignore. Unfortunately, you can’t make a person answer a question. Even if they do, it’s often easy to say the right things and then move on to the next topic.
Also, I’ve been criticized myself. During the 2018 2nd District congressional debate, my two questions for the candidates were about the national debt and about immigrants brought to America as children. A prominent statewide newspaper columnist complained because none of our six questions were about health care. That’s a fair criticism, but immigration is a hot topic, too, and I’ll never apologize for asking about the debt. If I’m on a panel in 2020, I’ll ask about it again.
The next Democratic presidential debate is Nov. 20. Many important questions should be asked of the candidates.
But surely, out of 374 and counting, one of them can be, “As president, what would you do to balance the federal budget and reduce the national debt?”
Is that too much to ask?
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas and former managing editor of The Saline Courier. Email him at brawner[email protected] Follow him on Twitter @stevebrawner.