Clinton and Trump Were Finally Asked About the Most Important (But Overlooked) Election Issue. They Whiffed.

Oct 20, 2016 - 2:45pm

Senior Editor, Digital Content


A viewing party for the third U.S. presidential debate in San Francisco, Cal.

There’s something to be said for saving the best for last.

After four-and-a-half hours over three presidential debates, Americans finally heard a question on reforming entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Reform of these programs is needed, as U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue writes:

According to the Social Security Trustees, on its present course the Disability Insurance Trust Fund will be empty by 2023. The Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034, requiring 23% across-the-board cuts to promised benefits. According to the Medicare Trustees, Medicare Part A, covering hospital insurance, will have to slash payments to providers by 2028. Meanwhile, total Medicare and Medicaid expenditures will continue to rise sharply and push our deficits to new heights.

As U.S. Chamber Chief Economist J.D. Foster explains, “manadatory spending” that includes entitlement programs and interest on the national debt is a driver of growing budget deficits. What’s more, this autopilot spending squeezes funding for national defense, law enforcement, education, transportation, and other necessary federal government functions.

Hours after the U.S. Chamber called for a question about entitlement reform, debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump what they would do to strengthen the programs.

3rd Presidential Debate Highlights | Trump, Clinton on National Debt

Unfortunately we didn’t hear anything about solutions, as the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports:

Trump insisted, tautologically, that his tax cuts would spur the economy “to grow at a record rate of growth,” solving any problem with entitlement spending. Clinton said she would raise taxes on the rich to expand benefits; “that will come from either raising the cap and/or finding other ways to get more money into it,” she said. “I will not cut benefits. I want to enhance benefits for low-income workers and for women who have been disadvantaged by the current Social Security system.”

A serious problem--like ensuring these programs continue to be a safety net for millions of Americans--deserve serious, well-thought-out answers.

Pretending entitlements will magically fix themselves simply through economic growth or thinking spending more—paid for by economy-crushing higher taxes—won’t solve the problem.

What’s needed are reasonable reforms to make the programs sustainable. To get there requires real political leadership that tells the public there is a problem and works towards a solution.

We will run off the fiscal rails if nothing is done. Then the public, who is already fed up with their federal government, will be really steamed when a future Congress and president stumble through that crisis.

Again, thanks to Chris Wallace for asking this important question on America’s fiscal well-being. It’s too bad both candidates didn’t offer solutions to “the most-predictable crisis in American history.”

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.