Key fiscal questions nominees must answer
We can only hope the final presidential debate Monday provides less heat and more light than the previous two. Especially with regard to fiscal matters, the debates have so far not provided the substance and solutions that voters need and deserve to hear.
Our nation’s escalating deficits and debt represent the biggest threat to our national security, as I said in early 2007. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said much the same in 2010. So the topic of the third debate, foreign policy and national security, needs to include a frank discussion of fiscal issues.
For, as our economy weakens, so does our position in the world. It will eventually compromise both our national security and domestic tranquility if not effectively addressed. Both our allies and adversaries recognize this, and we need to take action.
It’s time to see what type of leadership ability both candidates have in this critical area. Because it will require extraordinary presidential leadership and bipartisan cooperation if we expect to avoid a U.S. debt crisis.
The first step should be for the candidates to start providing substantive answers to serious questions instead of talking generalities and attacking each other. There are still many topics that need to be addressed and answers that the public needs to hear before Election Day. Consider:
Neither candidate, for example, has defined a clear goal for their overall fiscal policy. What do they plan to do and when? Will they reduce the budget deficit by a stated percentage, or reduce debt as a percentage of the economy? If so, to what level and by what year? A clearly defined goal can provide a mandate for action.
Our fiscal challenge cannot be successfully addressed without fixing our health care system — which could bankrupt the nation. So what specific steps will the candidates take to rationalize the government’s health care promises and bring down the overall health care costs?
Taxes are always a challenging topic, but neither President Barack Obama nor Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has provided enough specifics about his tax plan.
Romney needs to state three specific loopholes he would be willing to eliminate or reduce to enhance his credibility in connection with comprehensive tax reform. Obama has advocated for an additional and higher tax rate, as well as a new alternative minimum tax on the “wealthy.”
However, wouldn’t this approach just add to the complexity of our current broken tax system, while failing to generate enough revenue to effectively address the deficit?
Reforming social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security is essential to reining in unsustainable federal spending. Obama, however, has so far refused to offer any specific Social Security and Medicare reforms. He needs to address this critical issue.
In addition, Romney needs to say what he will do if his proposed Medicare “premium support” system fails to keep pace with the cost of health care inflation.
Given the foreign policy and national security focus of the upcoming debate, both candidates should also be prepared to state how they would reduce defense spending without compromising national security.
During my more than seven years as an ex-officio member of the Defense Business Board — a panel appointed by the defense secretary to advise on business and transformation issues — I became convinced that this is not only possible, it’s appropriate. The Defense Department is a bloated bureaucracy with significant opportunities to cut costs through greater efficiency and by focusing on future rather than past threats.
If the presidential candidates won’t address these types of substantive questions, how can the American people make an informed choice as to who can best lead a long overdue transformation of the federal government? Tough choices are necessary, and declining to provide specifics on key issues like these is both inappropriate and a failure of leadership.
Both candidates need to start providing real answers. They should begin Monday night.
Phot0: A 2011 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters