WASHINGTON -- The Concord Coalition today released “Key Questions Voters Should Ask Candidates About the Budget, Social Security and Medicare,” (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) a brochure proposing questions that citizens and the media should ask candidates for federal office. Each question features background information to provide context on these critical issues.
“In 2004, Presidential candidates will face the bleakest fiscal outlook since 1992. In this deteriorating fiscal environment, it is crucial that voters and the media put candidates to the test to determine if they are offering real solutions or empty rhetoric. The Concord Coalition's ‘Key Questions' brochure can be used as a tool to ensure that candidates address some of the toughest issues they will face if they are elected,” said Executive Director Robert Bixby.
1. Do you believe that large sustained budget deficits pose a threat to our nation's economic future?
If deficits don't matter then there is no reason for politicians and the public to worry about them. After all, most people would like to have lower taxes and higher government spending--at least on the programs they think are most important. That's why politicians often sound like Santa Claus as they toss gift-wrapped tax cuts and free lunch spending goodies from their bag of campaign rhetoric. That's also why politicians are tempted to downplay the importance of deficits, particularly in election years. But, it's a dangerous game. Like being drawn into an addiction, deficits are easy to acquire and hard to get rid of. The reason to be concerned about deficits is that over the long run they really do matter.
2. Do you believe that Congress and the President should agree on a new multi-year plan to balance the budget, and if so, should that plan exclude the Social Security surplus?
Deficits are back for as far as the eye can see. This alone, is a very serious development. Of more concern, however, is that politicians in Washington are not even working on a plan to bring the deficit under control. Instead, they have indiscriminately cut taxes, increased spending, allowed budget enforcement rules to expire and ignored the long-term dangers of large chronic deficits. Without the discipline imposed by a firm fiscal policy goal, deficits are likely to go higher and last longer than they would otherwise.
3. What specific spending cuts would you propose to help balance the budget?
Vague calls for spending restraint are simply a rhetorical means through which politicians duck making the truly hard choices necessary to restore fiscal order. Very few political leaders ask for sacrifice now. Our leaders need to again make hard choices that will allow us to confront challenges without passing all the costs to future generations.
4. The tax cuts passed since 2001 are set to expire at different times over the next seven years. Do you believe they should be extended permanently, or should all or some of them be allowed to lapse?
With the prospect of large sustained deficits looming over the future, the boomers scheduled to begin receiving entitlement benefits in just five years, and the upper level of future spending on national security still very uncertain, candidates should say whether it makes sense to consider allowing some of the tax cuts to expire as one budget option.
5. Do you believe that tax cuts alone will stimulate economic growth sufficient to grow our way out of currently projected deficits?
Tax cuts certainly have their place in fiscal policy, but they are not a free lunch. At the end of the day, revenues should cover outlays. Politicians should face up to the fact that with a future of endless deficits, you have to cut spending before you cut taxes.
6. Do you support the “Do Nothing Plan” for Social Security? If so, why? If not, what steps would you take to close the program's long-term funding gap?
Imagine that a candidate promised to introduce legislation called “The Social Security Do Nothing Plan.” Under this bill, promised retirement benefits would be cut by 16 percent for today's 30-year-olds, by 29 percent for today's 20-year-olds and by 35 percent for today's newborns. Alternatively, payroll taxes would suddenly go up by 34 percent in 2042. With either choice, we would still need to borrow trillions of dollars to pay benefits. How many candidates would campaign for office with such a plan? Probably none, and yet the most popular reform plan in Washington is still the “Do Nothing Plan.”
7. Medicare is in worse shape than Social Security. Costs are projected to more than double over the next decade, before most of the baby boom generation qualifies for benefits. These costs make the program unsustainable. How do you propose to make Medicare affordable?
Health care costs in this country are rapidly growing and the total cost of Medicare is rising along with them. When combined with Social Security, the two programs are projected to eat up nearly half of all total federal income tax dollars by the time today's newborns turn forty. It is time for politicians to stop ignoring this impending fiscal crisis and to start explaining what they will do to fix it.