The debt cannot be ignored. It will be there when the next presidential term starts and it will have an influence on every new initiative the administration may propose. So it is best now, during the campaign, for candidates to prepare themselves and the public for the tough choices ahead. To help focus attention on the nation’s fiscal challenges, ask the 2020 presidential candidates to do the following:
1. Acknowledge that the growing debt is a serious PROBLEM
Given budget projections, it is not 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 economic growth and a lower standard of living than would otherwise be the case.
2. Make dealing with the debt a top policy PRIORITY in their campaigns
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 clear, serious commitments to address the debt; they cannot just say that it must be dealt with at an undefined time in the future.
3. Put forward a PLAN for what they would do, not what they would refuse to do
Candidates need to put forth credible plans that deal with the structural mismatch between growing benefit promises and projected government revenues. At a minimum, candidates must not tie their own hands by taking items off the table during the campaign.
4. Explain how they would PAY for their policy initiatives
No matter what candidates’ priorities might be, their 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 would be credibly financed.
5. Use their platforms 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.