A copy of ths issue guide can be found here on the First Budget website.
In the months ahead presidential candidates will make many promises and offer ambitious economic plans. But within weeks of taking office the next president will have to fit these plans within a budget. A president’s first budget is vitally important in outlining priorities and setting the tone for an administration’s term in office. So the presidential campaigns should till the ground for action; it is critical that the next president use his or her first budget to put our nation on a more responsible fiscal course.
First Budget is a joint nonpartisan initiative of The Concord Coalition and the Campaign to Fix the Debt that will raise public awareness of the dangers posed by the nation’s unsustainable budget policies and make solving this problem a high priority for 2016 presidential candidates. This initiative will encourage all candidates to answer an important question:
“If you are elected our next President, what will you do in your first budget to address the national debt?”
The national debt and related federal budget issues are surrounded by myths and misinformation - often amplified by candidates and others during campaigns. Concerned voters have a right and a responsibility to find out how the candidates would deal with our nation’s unsustainable long-term fiscal path and to know whether what is being said is based on facts.
This guide is intended to serve as a nonpartisan resource to voters, media, and candidates on these issues. We can no longer afford campaigns devoid of serious and substantive discussion about the challenges we face and this guide can arm those who want to elevate a fact-based dialogue throughout the 2016 race.
This guide is organized by common themes that will be discussed by candidates and others regarding the debt and other federal budget issues over the course of the 2016 campaign. This is no time for false promises, vague rhetoric and petty partisan jabs; voters should insist on credible solutions -- the more specific, the better. Some of these solutions won’t be easy, but doing nothing is the height of fiscal and generational irresponsibility.
Do candidates acknowledge that although the deficit has gone down in recent years the growing national debt remains a critical challenge?
It is important to understand the difference between federal “deficits” vs “debt”. These terms often are confused which can lead to misconceptions about the true state of our nation’s fiscal challenges. Deficits are an annual measure of the difference between federal spending and revenue. Debt, on the other hand, is the sum of all past deficits that haven’t been paid back – in other words, debt is the total amount the government owes. Although deficits have fallen in recent years, debt has continued to grow and is projected to continue growing on an unsustainable path.
Some facts to consider:
The next president will face a debt path that will grow for the foreseeable future, rising from $14.5 trillion in his or her first year in office to just over $21 trillion after an eight-year term. As a share of the economy, debt will grow higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of World War II -- its largest level in history -- by 2040. This happens not because of another projected World War or great depression -- instead, projections assume a continuously growing economy and no major foreign wars, yet debt still skyrockets.
Is addressing our national debt a key part of the candidates’ economic plans?
Many often treat addressing our fiscal challenges and growing the economy as mutually exclusive policy goals, but they are interrelated. Failing to address the unsustainable long-term growth in the debt will have negative ramifications for the economic well-being of Americans.
Some facts to consider:
Do candidates have plans that address the core drivers of our unsustainable budget path, or do they put forward commonly cited non-solutions?
The answer to our fiscal problems is not simply cutting waste, fraud, and abuse, or relying only on growing the economy or raising taxes on the wealthy. The real cause of our fiscal problems is that we have a built-in mismatch between projected revenues and benefit programs that operate on autopilot such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. As the population ages and per-person health care costs continue to rise these programs will become increasingly more expensive. Revenues are projected to grow as well, but not by enough to keep up, leading to growing deficits, debt and interest payments.
Some facts to consider:
Do candidates offer plans to make Social Security solvent and secure for future generations?
Social Security is an important program that provides retirement and disability income to 60 million Americans. It is also the largest federal program, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all federal spending. Despite its dedicated revenues Social Security promises more benefits in the future than it can deliver. Since 2010 Social Security has been paying out more than it takes in on an annual basis and its Trustees warn that the program cannot sustain its projected long-run costs.
Do candidates offer plans to rein in the growth of federal health care spending?
Despite recent slowdowns in federal health care spending it remains a large piece of the federal budget. The recent slowdown has led to lower growth projections in Medicare and other government programs, yet great uncertainty remains about how much of the slowdown represents a permanent shift to a more efficient health care system. Our aging population is the main driver of future health care spending because it results in more Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Do candidates have a tax reform plan that will help put the national debt on a more sustainable path?
Federal revenues are not keeping pace with expenditures, a trend that will continue as federal spending on health and retirement programs are projected to increase. At the same time the U.S. tax code is complicated and inefficient and there is bipartisan agreement on the need for reform.
Do candidates’ plans leave room for critical investments to promote growth, opportunity, and security?
Increasingly, the federal budget is on autopilot. Interest and mandatory spending continue to grow faster than the economy or the tax base, increasingly crowding out federal spending on appropriated “discretionary” programs such as education, transportation, research and development, and defense. Candidates should have fiscally responsible plans that leave space for critical investments that will grow the economy.
Some Facts to Consider:
The debt is every candidate’s running mate. The debt will be there when the next president takes the Oath of Office and it will have an influence on every new initiative he or she may propose. So it is best now, during the campaign, for candidates to prepare themselves and the public for the tough choices ahead. In order to deal with the national debt responsibly, First Budget asks 2016 presidential candidates to do the following during their campaigns:
1. Acknowledge that the long term debt is a serious PROBLEM
Given budget projections, it will not be credible to deny the problem or pretend that economic growth or waste reduction alone will solve it. Failure to acknowledge this problem will allow high debt levels to persist, resulting in slower wage growth and higher cost of living, among many other consequences.
2. Make dealing with the debt a top policy PRIORITY in their campaign
The debt does not need to be a candidate’s only campaign priority, but it must be among the top priorities in order to have a mandate for action. Candidates must make a clear, serious commitment to address the debt; they cannot just state that it must be dealt with at an undefined time the future. Candidates can also make the debt a priority by committing to address it in their First Budget.
3. Put forward a PLAN for what they would do, not what they wouldn’t do
Candidates need to put forth credible plans that deal with the long-term structural mismatch between growing benefit promises and current revenues. At a minimum, candidates must not tie their hands by taking certain items off the table during the campaign.
4. Explain how they would PAY for their policy initiatives
No matter what candidates’ priorities might be, these campaign promises must fit within a sustainable budget. For example, advocating for a more activist government, a more robust military, or lower taxes must be done in tandem with information about how these plans will affect the debt.
5. Use their platform to engage and educate the PUBLIC about the tough choices in order to prepare for action once in office
Candidates must engage the public on the magnitude of the problem, the importance of acting sooner rather than later and why their plan has the best solution. Additionally, candidates must be willing to consider credible alternatives offered by others and work towards building a consensus.
First Budget is a joint nonpartisan initiative of The Concord Coalition and the Campaign to Fix the Debt that will raise public awareness of the dangers posed by the nation’s unsustainable budget policies and make solving this problem a high priority for the 2016 presidential candidates. Our effort starts with the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and will bring together volunteers, business leaders, students and others, to deliver an emphatic message of fiscal and generational responsibility to presidential candidates, the media, and voters.
If you would like to learn more or volunteer to help the First Budget initiative, please contact: National Office: Mike Murphy, firstname.lastname@example.org; Iowa: Sara Imhof, email@example.com; New Hampshire: Chase Hagaman, firstname.lastname@example.org
About The Concord Coalition
The Concord Coalition is a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots organization advocating generationally responsible fiscal policy. The Concord Coalition was founded in 1992 by the late former Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA), late former Senator B. Warren Rudman (R-NH), and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson. Former U. S. Representatives Mike Castle (R-DE) and John Tanner (D-TN) serve as Co-Chairs.
The Concord Coalition is dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America’s unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound economy for future generations. The Concord Coalition’s national field staff and loyal group of volunteers cover the country holding lectures, leading interactive exercises, conducting classes, giving media interviews, and briefing elected officials and their staffs.
About the Campaign to Fix the Debt
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan movement to put America on a better fiscal and economic path. We have come together from a variety of social, economic and political perspectives, around the common belief that America’s growing federal debt threatens our future and that we must address it. The Campaign mobilizes key communities – including leaders from business, government, and policy – and people all across America who want to see elected officials step up to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges.
Learn the basics
Try to fix this on your own
All of the debt numbers in this document refer to “debt held by the public,” which is currently at $13 trillion. This excludes more than $5 trillion of debt owed by the U.S. Treasury to other parts of the government, such as the Social Security trust funds. Because the debt that can be bought and sold on the open market determines interest rates, most economists think debt held by the public is a better measure of a country’s exposure than gross debt.