Missing: Where are the debt hawks?

Something is missing in the Republican presidential contest. It certainly isn’t candidates – the party has plenty of those. In fact, in the wake of exits by Scott Walker and Rick Perry, it’s probably time for a few more candidates to winnow themselves from the field.

No, what’s missing is robust discussion of a topic voters expect from Republican candidates: eliminating the federal budget deficit and reducing our national debt to a manageable level. It’s a conversation we need to have, but the GOP contest has been dominated by other topics.

That’s unfortunate, and not just because the deficit and debt are important issues. This is a conversation that needs to be led by Republicans. We know it’s not going to be led by the other party. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are going to put debt reduction front and center? Unlikely.

Eye-popping interest
The national debt today, at over $13 trillion, is 74% of our nation’s GDP. At current rates, it’s expected to top 100% of GDP in the 2030s. The federal government this year will pay out more in interest payments ($229 billion) than it spends on higher education, unemployment benefits, and food assistance programs – combined.

Interest Compared To Other Spending 2015

That’s a lot of money, and when interest rates rise, new and existing debt will be even more expensive to service.

The GOP presidential candidates haven’t been completely silent about the debt, but it hasn’t been a top issue. Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham have both admirably stuck their necks out in favor of adjustments to entitlements, a necessary element for any serious proposal about lowering our debt. And the candidates needn’t reinvent the wheel; the Simpson-Bowles plan, for instance, is a great place to start the conversation.

The Republican Party has a long history of proud deficit hawks who sought to lower the national debt, such as senators Pete Domenici, Phil Gramm, Slade Gorton and, going way back, that shining light of debt reduction Calvin Coolidge. Here in this state in 2016, Senate candidate Chris Vance is sure to make fixing our debt problem a top campaign issue. The GOP presidential candidates should join him in the conversation.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.