This is the sixth story of an 11-article series leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election that will break down the issues dominating political debates. Check back next Thursday for our segment on health care.
Former President Bill Clinton’s administration balanced the national budget in 1998, an achievement looked back on with nostalgia in the years following an economic downturn in 2008.
More than a decade later, America is roughly $16 trillion in debt, and politicians have conflicting opinions on how to regain financial stability.
With massive national debt hanging over the 2012 presidential election just about six weeks away, the issue of where spending cuts can and need to be made has been heavily debated by President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who agree that the national deficit needs to be addressed, but have radically different plans on how to do so.
According to data from the White House, at the end of Clinton’s second term as president, the U.S. was on track to eliminate debts and have a national surplus of $2.3 trillion by 2011.
During former President George W. Bush’s administration, policies enacted added $7 trillion to the national debt, including a $3 trillion tax cut, a $300 billion prescription drug plan for seniors, $1.7 trillion in domestic and defense spending, and $1.4 trillion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since Obama took office in 2008, policies enacted under his administration have added $1.4 trillion to the national debt. Those policies include $800 billion for the Recovery Act in response to a declining economy, $700 billion in debt for government financing and $250 billion for middle-class tax cuts, among other contributions.
According to Romney’s website, the amount added to the debt under Obama is $6.5 trillion, much higher than number recorded by the White House. In a Wednesday speech at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio, Romney reflected on the raising debt, and predicted that the national debt would reach $20 trillion if Obama is re-elected for a second term.
The White House reported in 2011 the public held $10.4 trillion in national debt, a long way from predictions made at the close of Clinton’s presidency.
Romney said to a crowd of about 1,700 on Wednesday that as president, he would make sure the U.S. doesn’t suffer from the crippling debt problems of other nations.
“We’re on the road to Europe, we’re on the road to Greece, and I’ll get us off that road,” he said.
The national debt, if not addressed, will continue to grow and fall into the hands of the next generation of Americans. For this reason, many on both ends of the political spectrum have said that students and young people should be concerned about government spending and how the debt issue is addressed in the coming years.
OSU economics professor Lucia Dunn said young people should be concerned because they will see the direct effects of the debt, such as higher taxes in the future and less benefits from government-funded programs.
“It’s always painful to pay off debt, but the sooner we start doing it, the better position we’ll be in and our children will be in,” she said.
She mentioned the 2011 U.S. credit rate downgrade. Credit rating agency Standard & Poor dropped the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA-Plus in Aug. 2011. It was the first downgrade the U.S. has gotten since 1917.
In his campaign for re-election, Obama has promised to cut the national debt by more than $4 trillion by 2022 by ending the war in Iraq and pulling troops out of Afghanistan. According to his website, he plans to use half those savings to pay back the deficit. He also plans to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid and avoid wasting excess money with health care fraud.
Romney has also devised strategies to cut the deficit, but with an approach aimed at cutting government programs. He plans to repeal Obama’s health care reform, coined “Obamacare,” which according to Romney’s website, will save $95 billion. He plans to privatize Amtrak, a government-operated train company funded partially by taxpayer dollars, cut back on money given for foreign aid, and slash Title X family planning funding that subsidize programs such as Planned Parenthood.
During his time as governor of Massachusetts, Romney reports that he balanced the state budget, but according to Obama campaign materials about “Romney Economics” he added $2.6 billion to the state’s debt. However, that sum doesn’t necessarily reflect Romney policies, and the Massachusetts state budget is required to be balanced.
Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan is well-known for his plans to reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending. His plan is called a “voucher” system by some Democrats, but a “premium support” plan by some Republicans. The plan would change the way the health care system in the U.S. works. Instead of the government paying doctors to treat Medicare recipients, recipients would buy their own health insurance from private entities, and the government would give them money to select from an approved list of insurance companies. Ryan’s plan would only affect people under the age of 55, those older than 55 will be grandfathered into the Medicare system in place.
Niraj Antani, communications director for the OSU College Republicans, said programs need to be cut in order to control the growing debt.
“We can’t afford all the programs were paying for,” he said. “Somewhere down the line someone’s going to have to pay for it and it’s either going to be us or it’s going to be our kids because this generation isn’t doing anything about it.”
Antani called it “morally irresponsible” to leave the next generation in debt, and students should hold the government responsible for its spending.
“The fact of the matter is if students have to sit in their classroom wondering about how their gonna balance their own budget, well the government should too,” he said.
Both candidates were in Ohio on Wednesday, with Romney on a four-day campaign tour of the state, and Obama visiting Bowling Green State University and Kent State.
In his speech at Kent State, Obama criticized Romney’s proposal to cut the national deficit by $5 trillion without providing specific details on his plans.
“No matter how many times they try to tell you they’re going to start talking specifics really soon, they don’t do it, and the reason is because the math doesn’t work,” Obama said.
According to a recent Gallup poll, Obama leads in the presidential race with 50 percent, with Romney trailing slightly behind him at 44 percent.
Representatives from the OSU College Democrats did not return requests for comment.
Ally Marotti contributed to this article.