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Missing From 2016 Race: Sense of Urgency Over U.S. Budget Gaps


Monday, May 2, 2016

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In almost every stump speech, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich mentions his six years on the House Budget Committee and his work to produce a budget surplus. He brings a national-debt clock to town halls. He talks about his responsible stewardship of Ohio’s finances as governor, too. And that’s the only state he’s won.

v According to the Pew Research Center’s annual survey of policy priorities, 56 percent of adults in the U.S. said in January that reducing the budget deficit was a “top priority.” That share peaked at 72 percent in 2013. Though there is a partisan gap — since Barack Obama began as president in 2009, Republicans have cared more than Democrats — the downward trend is consistent across parties, ages and education levels.

That decline has been mirrored in this year’s campaign. Back in 2012, candidates in the final Republican debate brought up the federal debt or deficit 15 times; five of those came from Mitt Romney, who won the nomination. In this year’s most recent Republican debate, it came up eight times, most of those from Marco Rubio, now out of the race. Only one came from Donald Trump, who last month stepped back from a promise to pay down the federal debt within two terms. In the most recent Democratic debate, the word “debt” was preceded by the word “student” every time.

The national debt has stabilized — for now — and the deficit has shrunk as a share of gross domestic product. These happy facts have a potentially hazardous side-effect: public indifference. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, if Congress and the White House do nothing, toward the end of this decade the debt will begin climbing again. But there is no immediate emergency.

“Congress got burned out on the deficit,” says William Hoagland. “We still have the lowest interest rates, the economy is not tanking, we’re not in recession.”

Hoagland runs fiscal and economic policy for the Washington-based. Talk about the budget “waxes and wanes,” he said. “We’re in a waning period. It’s just not a winning topic.”