Should presidential contenders debate the debt?

April 30, 2012

Starting with the November 2010 midterm elections and stretching through the summer debt ceiling fight and the fall 2011 “supercommittee” deliberations, much of the national debate over the past year-and-a-half has been focused on the issue of the country’s $16 trillion debt.

Now, a bipartisan think tank is calling on President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) to dedicate one of this fall’s presidential debates to addressing the issue.

On Monday the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget announced its launch of “Debate the Debt,” a petition urging the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as the Commission on Presidential Debates to put the candidates’ debt-reduction plans front-and-center this fall.

In a conference call Monday, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget President Maya MacGuineas warned that the “fiscal cliff” facing the country at the end of this year “needs to be replaced with a responsible multiyear debt deal.”

She said the think tank has issued letters to members of the debate commission calling for a debate of the candidates’ detailed debt-reduction plans so that “we could embark on this long-overdue conversation in this country.”

Obama’s most recent request for an increase in the debt ceiling came in late December, when — as stipulated by the bipartisan August debt deal — he asked Congress for an additional $1.2 trillion in federal borrowing authority.

Since then, the issue of the debt has largely receded from the political spotlight as the campaigns and leaders on Capitol Hill have turned their focus to jobs, a payroll tax cut extension and, more recently, the extension of current federal student loan rates.

But with Congress’s autumn lame-duck session slated to bring a debate over a host of pressing economic issues — including the next debt ceiling increase; the scheduled expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts; and a $1.2 trillion “sequester” that will hit both defense and non-defense spending — the next debt debate isn’t far off.

Should that debate occur on the stage of one of this year’s presidential face-offs? Or is there another, better venue? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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