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.
“This nation must soon make some very difficult decisions about its fiscal future. On the verge of the baby boomers' retirement years, we have budget deficits that are problematic in the short-term and, if we don't change course, economically ruinous over the longer run. Campaigns are the best time for voters to find out how candidates plan to deal with the looming fiscal challenge, or whether they have even thought about it at all. Some candidates will be tempted to tell the voters what they think they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. It's up to the voters to make each campaign a 'pander-free' zone. For our part, we hope these questions will help in that effort. We also encourage candidates to show initiative by bringing up these issues themselves, without waiting for the voters to demand answers. That is what real leadership is about,” said Concord Coalition Executive Director Bob Bixby.
Do you believe that large sustained budget deficits pose a threat to our nation's economic future?
The accumulation of large deficits, year after year, burdens taxpayers and undermines future living standards. The borrowing necessary to finance deficits takes money out of capital markets, leaving less money for the public and private investment necessary for our economic future. Increased reliance on foreign capital to finance our deficits means that the decisions of foreign interests have a greater impact on our economy and give foreign investors a larger claim on our future economic resources.
Do you believe that Congress and the President should agree on a plan to balance the budget?
We are back to facing endless deficits that will not go away without specific actions by Congress and the President. The goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 is inadequate relative to the fiscal challenges we face. Policymakers should agree on the common goal of a balanced budget, put everything on the table--including entitlement cuts and tax increases--and negotiate the necessary tradeoffs.
Do you support reinstatement of caps on annual appropriations and pay-as-you-go rules for taxes and entitlement spending?
Pay-as-you-go rules for all tax and entitlement legislation and spending caps for appropriations are proven tools for fiscal discipline. These budget enforcement rules were an important part of getting a handle on the deficits in the 1990's. Unfortunately, Congress allowed these rules to expire in 2002 even as deficits reemerged. Pay-as-you-go rules do not prevent Congress from passing tax cuts or new entitlements. They simply require that any such legislation must not add to the deficit.
What specific spending cuts would you propose to help balance the budget?
Politicians often talk tough on spending without mentioning what programs they would cut. This is a convenient way to avoid making hard choices. Vague calls to crack down on “pork” or “waste, fraud and abuse” are not enough to get the job done.
Tax cuts passed since 2001 are set to expire by 2011. Do you support extension of the expiring tax cuts and, if so, how would you address the budgetary implications?
Since 2001, Congress has enacted four tax cut packages with “sunsets” that cause them to expire by 2011. In light of the deteriorated fiscal outlook and the fact that we have not taken action to prepare for the costs of the baby boomers' retirement, it makes sense to reassess whether any or all of the tax cuts enacted during the surplus era should be extended. Economists generally acknowledge that tax cuts do not fully pay for themselves through greater economic growth. Thus, extending the tax cuts will require Congress to make substantial spending cuts, raise other taxes or significantly increase the national debt.
Do you support the hard choices and tradeoffs inherent in fiscally responsible tax reform?
Citizens should be skeptical of politically popular tax reforms that don't make tradeoffs to offset the revenue loss that can result. While failure to enact fundamental tax reform represents a lost opportunity to improve the fairness and efficiency of the tax code, reform that does not embrace the hard choices of closing loopholes and eliminating deductions is much worse from a fiscal perspective.
What steps would you take to close Social Security's long-term funding gap?
Social Security promises far more in future benefits than it can deliver under current law. Candidates must confront some tough issues. Finding a cure for the challenges facing Social Security will require reduced benefits, increased revenues, or both. Real solutions must reduce the long-term cost of the program and contribute to a larger economy to make the program more affordable. “Free Lunch” solutions do neither.
What is your opinion of including individual accounts in Social Security reform?
Individual accounts can be an important component of a comprehensive reform plan, but the money to fund them must come from somewhere. If it comes from the current payroll tax, the deficit will increase and no new savings for the economy will result. Individual accounts alone will not close the long-term funding gap. Tough choices are required whether or not individual accounts are included in a reform plan.
Medicare is in worse shape than Social Security. How do you propose to make Medicare affordable?
Medicare costs are growing faster than the payroll taxes and premiums that finance the program. Costs also are projected to grow faster than the overall economy, and faster than can be reasonably supported by the federal budget unless spending priorities change dramatically. The addition of Medicare's prescription drug benefit merely compounds the program's shaky financial foundation. Putting the Medicare program on a financially sustainable path will require some combination of reductions in services, increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries, increasing the eligibility age, bringing more revenues into the system and improving the cost effectiveness of Medicare and the health care system overall.
Key Questions Pamphlet: http://www.concordcoalition.org/doc/keyquestions/2006-pamphlet-version.pdf
Key Questions Booklet: http://www.concordcoalition.org/doc/keyquestions/2006-internet.pdf