Issue Guide for the 2020 Presidential Election

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As the presidential campaign heats up with the first debates this week, The Concord Coalition has released The National Debt & Federal Budget: 2020 Presidential Election Issue Guide.

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 into a proposed budget to submit to Congress. With nonpartisan budget projections showing an unsustainable path under current laws, it is critical for whoever is elected president in 2020 to chart a more responsible and sustainable fiscal course. Presidential candidates should therefore explain how they would do that or explain why they would not.

The Concord Coalition is working to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by the nation’s growing debt and to make dealing with this problem a high priority for 2020 presidential candidates. We encourage all candidates to answer this question:

“If you are elected president, what will you do to address the national debt?”

This guide is intended to serve as a nonpartisan resource to voters, media and candidates on these issues. Voters should not settle for campaigns devoid of serious and substantive discussion about the nation’s fiscal challenges. We offer this guide to help those who want to elevate a fact-based dialogue throughout the 2020 race.

Some information to keep in mind:

Consequences of Rising Debt

  • “Crowding out” of private sector investment, leading to slower economic growth and a lower standard of living for current and future generations

  • Higher interest rates on loans for households and businesses

  • Higher government interest payments displacing other government priorities and investments

  • Reduced fiscal flexibility for the government to react to wars, recessions, or other national needs and emergencies


50-year averages (% of GDP) vs. 2019 and 2029

    50-yr     2019     2029  
Debt Held by the Public 42 78 92
Budget Deficits 2.9 4.2 4.4
Spending 20.3 20.7 22.9*
Revenues 17.4 16.5 18.3**
Mandatory Spending 9.9 12.7 14.9
Total Discretionary Spending 8.4 6.3 5.0
     Defense Discretionary 4.6 3.1 2.5
     Non-defense Discretionary 3.8 3.1 2.5
Net Interest 2.0 1.8 3.0

*Assumes that current law spending caps for 2020 and 2021 are maintained

**Assumes that some 2017 tax cuts expire as scheduled after 2025

Demographics and the Budget

  • In the coming decade, the population age 65 and older will grow by roughly one-third, By 2029, 20 percent of the population will be age 65 or older, compared with 16 percent today.

  • According to CBO, the average annual growth rate of potential labor was 1.4 percent from 1950 to 2018. Due mostly to the baby boomers’ retirements, that rate will fall to just 0.5 percent from 2019 to 2029, slowing potential economic growth.

  • Within 10 years, 50 percent of non-interest federal spending will go to people age 65 or older primarily through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and federal civilian and military retirement. Such spending equaled 40 percent of GDP in 2018.

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