February 19, 2017

Candidates Owe It to Young Voters to Debate Debt

Ahead of the presidential debate Nov. 14 in Iowa, former Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), a member of First Budget's Iowa cabinet, writes in the Des Moines Register candidates should explain their ideas to keep Social Security and Medicare financially sound for future generations. The op-ed can also be found here

As the presidential campaigns move forward in Iowa and across the country, I continue to wait for a leader on fiscal responsibility.

During my 16 years in Congress and 12 years in the Iowa Senate, I championed key issues such as health care and mental health issues, and investing in transportation and other infrastructure. As an active member of the House Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition, I always did so with an eye towards the bottom line.

Unfortunately, addressing the federal budget challenge has not made its way into the top priorities of Democratic campaigns. The fact that many Republicans have also taken a pass on this issue is of no comfort.

Partisanship aside, what matters most to me, as I think about my eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, is the legacy of debt we are leaving to them and future generations.

Our national debt of more than $18 trillion is already staggering, and its projected growth will place a drag on the economy. Rising interest payments on the debt could eventually crowd out key government functions such as education, defense, research and transportation infrastructure.

That would further slow economic growth, reduce job opportunities and lower living standards.

When the Democratic debate is held in Iowa on Nov. 14, I hope the presidential candidates will show their support for crucial social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare. But with the aging population, that must include reforms to ensure that these programs remain strong for future generations.

We have to make some hard choices. Spending cuts enacted over the last five years have focused almost entirely on the areas of the budget where important investments are made.

To increase investments in research, technology, infrastructure and education, we must confront the growth of retirement benefits, which are projected to grow more quickly than the economy.

We also need to revamp our inefficient tax code. Tax expenditures — the deductions, rate preferences and special provisions in the code — make it too complex and regressive. Limiting them could bring in needed revenue, foster economic growth and improve progressivity.

It is also important for elected officials to adhere to the Pay-As-You-Go principle, finding ways to prevent any tax cuts or new entitlement spending proposals from adding to the debt.

Getting to work soon on bipartisan changes will make it easier to design thoughtful, pro-growth and well-targeted reforms. Making changes now will avoid changes later that are much harder, more painful, and too heavy a burden on the next generation.

That’s why I feel so strongly about getting our fiscal house in order.

The presidential candidates owe it to voters of all ages — but especially younger ones — to explain in some detail how they would address our fiscal difficulties.

These are not simply math problems that need to be solved. They represent a glaring moral challenge for this great country.

So as I watch the Nov. 14 debate, I will be hoping that my party’s candidates will speak out and share their concepts for dealing with the unsustainable federal debt, for the sake of our country and for all of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren — including mine.