Sep 19, 2016 - 10:00am

An Open Memo to Lester Holt: The Most Important (But Overlooked) Election Issue


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

To: Lester Holt, NBC Nightly News anchor and moderator of the first 2016 Presidential Debate 

Subject: The most important – but overlooked – issue in the presidential election

Mr. Holt,

On Sept. 26, you will moderate what might be the most watched presidential debate in history. With so many important challenges facing the county, narrowing the list of questions will be difficult. But there is one issue you must not ignore, one that is absolutely critical to the financial security of every American, the strength of our economy, and our ability to invest in the next generation—and that’s the state of our entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

These programs are fundamental components of America’s social safety net, providing economic security to seniors, the poor, and others. However, they’re also the main drivers of our country’s swelling federal debt, and the programs themselves have become wholly unaffordable and unsustainable. In fact, on their current trajectory, entitlements and interest on the debt (which is largely driven by spending on those entitlement programs) will account for 96 percent of all federal revenue in 10 years, according to baseline projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

That leaves just four pennies of every dollar the federal government brings in to spend on discretionary programs, which includes everything from defense initiatives and federal research to education programs and highway repairs. That’s simply not feasible, and it means that all other spending – in areas like national security, education, and infrastructure – must be financed by issuing more debt.

Left untouched, the cost of America’s entitlement programs will drive federal policymakers to continue running up the national debt beyond its already unprecedented level, with the budget deficit forecast to surpass $1.3 trillion by 2026. This continues to present yet another source of investment-draining and economic-stalling uncertainty, as business leaders worry about what drastic future actions the government may be forced to take in the near future.

In other words, our country’s current economic struggles and its recent propensity for fiscal excess are very much intertwined. In order to turn the tide, jumpstart our economy, and put more Americans back to work, we must change course. We can—we must—start by electing leaders who are fully committed to saving these vital safety net programs while at the same time putting America’s fiscal house in order.

Sadly, we have heard very little to this point from either candidate about their plans to solve this urgent and enormously important challenge—and what we have heard is very distressing, with the candidates proposing to either do nothing or actually expand (rather than reform) these programs. This is a recipe for disaster for our children, our grandchildren, and for generations of Americans to come.

With this is mind, we strongly urge you to ask the candidates the following question: “What’s your plan to save our country’s entitlement programs and reduce the national debt?”

We look forward to a lively and enlightening debate.

Best of luck,

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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