Oct 19, 2016 - 5:30pm

Open Memo to Chris Wallace: America’s Last Opportunity for Answers on Entitlement Reform

Mr. Wallace,

As you prepare to moderate tonight’s third and final presidential debate, we want to thank you for committing to ask the candidates about some of our country’s most important issues, including the economy, immigration policies, as well as the federal debt and our country’s entitlement programs. It’s that last topic that we were particularly pleased to see on the agenda, as it’s one that is critical to the financial security of every American and the strength of the U.S. economy, yet it has been overlooked during the first two debates – and really, during the entire campaign.

Entitlement programs are the primary drivers of our country’s swelling federal debt.

Our country’s entitlement programs are fundamental components of America’s social safety net, providing economic security to seniors, the poor, and others. However, they are also the primary drivers of our country’s swelling federal debt, and the programs themselves have become unaffordable and unsustainable. In fact, on their current trajectory, entitlements and interest on the debt (which is driven in large part by spending on those 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 or implementing massive, economy-crushing taxes.

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 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.

While we were pleased to hear CBSN’s Elaine Quijano ask the vice presidential candidates about their plans to address this challenge, and while we were encouraged to hear both Gov. Pence and Sen. Kaine acknowledge the importance of saving programs like social security, neither running mate offered much in the way of detail about exactly how they would save our entitlement programs.

What are the candidates' plans to save our country's entitlement programs and reduce the national debt?

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

Americans have a right to know how each candidate would address this critical issue – and Wednesday night may very well be the last chance we have to solicit that answer. With this is mind, during that pivotal segment of tonight’s debate, we urge you to ask the following question: “What’s your plan to save our country’s entitlement programs and reduce the national debt?”

We look forward to another lively and enlightening debate.

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