WASHINGTON -- Before beginning the West Coast leg on its Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, The Concord Coalition today released "Key Questions Voters Should Ask Candidates About the Budget, Social Security and Medicare." (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) "Key Questions" is 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.
"The candidates we elect in 2008 will face crucial decisions about the path of our nation's fiscal policy. They should not take comfort, nor should we, in the fact that the deficit has declined in the past few years. The debt continues to go up and the long-term outlook is as bad as ever. During the next presidential term, the baby boomers will begin to qualify for Social Security and Medicare. Both programs must be reformed to achieve long-term sustainability. Important tax policy questions also await as the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are set to expire by 2011 and the Alternative Minimum Tax digs deeper into the middle class. 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," said Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby.
"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 Field Director Harry Zeeve.
Do you believe that budget deficits matter?
The accumulation of large deficits, year after year, burdens taxpayers and undermines future living standards. It does so by soaking up national savings and crowding out productive investment. Today's budget policy threatens to place ever-tighter constraints on the ability of future citizens to determine their own fiscal priorities. It also increases our reliance on borrowing from other countries, in effect, mortgaging our future national income. The United States would be in a stronger position to weather difficult times, address emerging national needs and invest in future economic growth if it had greater flexibility and strength in its fiscal position.
Do you believe that either Congress or the President has a realistic plan to balance the budget? If not, what would you do differently?
President Bush and the Democratic leaders of Congress share the goal of balancing the budget by 2012, but there is reason to be skeptical that they are prepared to make the necessary trade-offs required to achieve that goal. Both rely on assumptions that overstate likely revenues and understate likely expenses. A serious effort to address the deficit will require policymakers to tackle the underlying structural problems resulting from existing entitlement and tax laws.
Do you support budget enforcement laws such as caps on annual appropriations and a pay-as-you-go requirement for tax cuts and entitlement expansions?
Pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules for all tax and entitlement legislation and spending caps for appropriations are proven tools for fiscal discipline. These enforcement laws were an important part of bringing the budget back into balance from 1998 through 2001. This year, Congress took a positive step to bring back PAYGO budgeting by enacting parliamentary rules, but stopped short of writing these rules into law. Doing so would put additional teeth into the PAYGO rule by establishing a mechanism that could not be waived without new legislation.
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.
The 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.
How do you propose to keep Medicare from overwhelming the federal budget?
Medicare costs are projected to grow faster than the economy, and faster than can be reasonably supported by the federal budget. Putting Medicare 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.
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. Candidates who promise to preserve benefits at the levels promised under current law should explain where the money will come from to fund these promises. Likewise, candidates who promise to oppose any tax increases should explain what changes they would make to restrain the growth of Social Security costs to stay within current tax levels.
Key Questions Booklet: http://www.concordcoalition.org/doc/keyquestions/2008-internet.pdf
The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to balanced federal budgets and generationally responsible fiscal policy. Former U.S. Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH) and Bob Kerrey (D-NE) serve as Concord's co-chairs and former Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson serves as president.