In these unusual and
occasionally bizarre presidential primaries, great attention has been given to Donald Trump’s insults and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong showing against Hillary Clinton. Substantive discussion of issues has been lacking, particularly on the Republican side.
A crucial issue that has been almost completely ignored is the federal debt. Candidates do speak out against the debt because they understand its devastating impact on the country. But they are unwilling to address the steps necessary to reduce it.
IF THE VOTERS want to understand and compare each presidential candidate’s policies for dealing with the debt, they must turn to candidates’ websites. An analysis of their respective spending and revenue proposals on the sites has been completed by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Their findings summarize the impact of the three candidates’ policies on the federal debt over a 10-year period.
Mr. Trump’s policies would add between $12 trillion and $15 trillion to today’s $19 trillion dollar debt, a 70 percent increase. He would increase spending by about $1 trillion, and reduce revenue with tax cuts of about $11 trillion to $14 trillion, including additional interest costs.
THESE HUGE TAX cuts primarily benefit the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center determined that the top 1 percent of earners would get 35 percent of the tax cut benefits, and the top 10 percent of taxpayers would receive more than 50 percent.
Trump recently stated to reduce the debt he “would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal.” Even suggesting that he would “make a deal” so that America might not repay 100 cents on the dollar jeopardizes America’s credit rating. It would cause worldwide financial turmoil, and add billions in additional interest payments to the federal debt.
Because of the unanimous uproar from the financial markets, Trump has retreated from this statement and now says U.S. debt is sacred. How many times will he make a rookie mistake and have to be rescued from an essentially ignorant position?
IN SPITE OF his commitment to balance the budget, Trump would increase the debt more than any other candidate. He would achieve this largely by reducing federal revenue by cutting taxes for himself and other very wealthy individuals.
Sen. Sanders’ policies would increase the debt by $2 trillion to $15 trillion, the large variance caused by uncertainty in health care costs. His proposals would increase government spending to about 30 percent to 35 percent of the gross domestic product, far above the historical average of 20 percent of GDP.
He has an assortment of large tax increases to compensate for his increased spending, including raising the top income tax rate from 43 percent to 77 percent. However, the tax increases are still not enough to pay for his increased spending, resulting in a debt increase potentially as great as Mr. Trump’s.
Secretary Clinton would increase the debt by about $200 billion. She proposes $1.8 trillion in new spending, and $1.6 trillion in new revenue. Revenue increases come primarily from people making more than $1 million a year.
HER INCREASE in the debt is about 1 percent to 2 percent of the increases from Mr. Trump, and about 1 percent to 10 percent of the increases from Sen. Sanders. Secretary Clinton’s proposals are the most fiscally responsible.
If we don’t get the debt under control, a debt crisis would require massive spending cuts and revenue increases. Under these circumstances, neither a robust military nor increased social welfare programs would be affordable. Whether liberal or conservative, we all should be seriously concerned about the debt.
The country cannot afford either Bernie Sanders’s or Donald Trump’s irresponsible debt policies. Both must start over with their tax and spending plans to be credible. Promising the mathematically unachievable is simply dishonest.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah. His e-mail address is EdConant420@gmail.com.)