News about the sorry state of America’s fiscal affairs is often so frequent and met with such an unenthusiastic response from our political leaders that the warnings appear anticlimactic. This past Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department revealed the federal deficit for 2019 is nearing $1 trillion — the largest in seven years. Neither party batted an eye.
It is a curious state of affairs considering the Republican Party — which continues to insist it is the party of “fiscal discipline” — holds the presidency and a majority position in the U.S. Senate. During his 2016 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump boasted that the country “need[ed] someone like [him] to straighten [the national debt] out” and vowed to completely pay off the national debt in eight years.
Respective budget deficits of $665 billion, $779 billion, and now $984 billion for 2017, 2018, and 2019 are casting these promises as hollow. Allies of President Trump can bring up the valid counter that, to paraphrase Michael Corleone from Godfather II, his ability to make good on his commitment is difficult, but not impossible. However, the president’s similar vow to refrain from considering entitlement reform and consistent signing of budget-busting legislation like the unfunded Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and $1.3 trillion 2018 spending bill makes these defenses strain credulity.
It is also a bipartisan affair, as candidates in the Democratic Presidential primary roll out one expensive proposal after another. Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Brian Riedl reminds that despite an “overall deficit that is already projected to total $15 trillion over the next decade, politicians are promising $40 trillion in new spending.” He goes on to cite figures almost as inconceivable as the national debt itself, from the $28-32 trillion ten-year price tag of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Medicare-for-All plan to the $1.5 trillion in new annual deficits from Andrew Yang’s universal basic income proposal. The inconsistencies in how their plans will be financed are met with galling indifference.
For young Americans concerned about the impact that U.S. fiscal policy will have on our future, the more prudent option would be to hear out alternative options to the current crop of political leaders in Washington.
Enter Mark Sanford and Michael Bennet.
Former South Carolina congressman and governor Mark Sanford announced a primary challenge to President Trump with the hope of shocking both him and the Republican Party at large into recommitting to resolving America’s woeful fiscal state. While he’s a self-admitted dark horse candidate — referring to his campaign as “preposterous” and a “David and Goliath story” — Sanford is sincere in his desire to change Washington’s apathetic approach to spending reforms.
He is laser focused on bringing attention to what he calls the “financial storm” that is coming. In his opinion, the nation doesn’t have “the luxury of waiting another four years ‘til the next presidential cycle” to postpone the conversation about what to do about our $23 trillion national debt and $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
Otherwise, he goes on, “I believe in the next four years, very much in our lives, very much impacting our retirement accounts, very much impacting our building and jobs, will be a financial storm the likes of which we’ve never seen because there is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
According to Sanford, “whats occuring [in America is] a social equity and moral question on whether we really believe it’s acceptable to enjoy government services now and hand the bill to the next generation for their payment.”
By putting these concerns front-and-center in his campaign, Sanford is making his own difficult, but not impossible effort at getting at least one major political party to reenter the conversation on reining in spending with a renewed degree of seriousness.
But what about the other party
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is also worth attention for trying to infuse fiscal reason to the Democratic primary that has been dominated by proposals that entail massive amounts of new spending and little amounts of ways to pay for it. In reaction to Sen. Warren’s funding proposal for the Medicare for All, Sen. Bennet panned it, stating “Voters are sick and tired of politicians promising them things that they know they can’t deliver.”
His campaign’s fiscally responsible stances take cues from his Senate priorities. In late October, he was the lone Democrat to vote against a provision that would overturn IRS regulations regarding caps on state and local tax deductions (SALT). Despite objecting to the fact that the cap primarily affected majority-Democratic states, Sen. Bennet recognized the change as one of the few means of financing tax cuts in other areas. “Repeal,” Sen. Bennet said “would be extremely costly. And for that same cost, we could finance much more worthy efforts to help working- and middle-class families all over the country.”
Sen. Bennet also voted against the latest budget deal in August that increased spending by $322 billion over the next two years.
It should be celebrated when anyone takes a stand to make their party think more carefully about what their actions mean for the nation’s balance sheet. These candidates represent an opportunity for young Americans worried about the consequences of reckless fiscal policy perpetrated by today’s political leaders.
It is refreshing to hear candidates for president discuss a public policy challenge that will have real world consequences when the bill comes due — even if they stand more-or-less alone. While there are myriad issues to consider when contemplating the support of any political candidate, the serious problems that our national debt presents to the future of younger generations should engender more support for those that will take a stand now.
We can only hope that more of our leaders and aspiring leaders will follow Sanford and Bennet’s examples and adopt positions that will provide for a prosperous nation for many generations to come.