- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pundits may debate the winner of Wednesday’s debate but the loser would appear to be the government’s fiscal future, with neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton willing to budge from the plans that analysts have said would throw the country’s finances over a cliff.

Budget watchdogs have said for years that a bipartisan deal both raising taxes and limiting entitlement benefits such as Social Security checks is there to be had, but both candidates rejected that agreement.

“I’m cutting taxes, we’re going to grow the economy,” Mr. Trump said, insisting the country can grow its way out of the problems it faces.

Mrs. Clinton went the other direction, saying the government can tax its way to a solvent Social Security by lifting the cap that limits how much income is subject to payroll taxes for the public pensions program.

“I am on record saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security trust fund. That’s part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy,” she said.

She said her taxes would go up under that, as would Mr. Trump’s — though she wondered if he would try to find a tax loophole to avoid it.

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“Such a nasty woman,” Mr. Trump countered.

Mrs. Clinton went on to say she will find “ways to get more money into it,” but flatly ruled out any benefit cuts, saying she would instead increase benefits.

Budget analysts panned both candidates’ answers.

“Both candidates suggested ‘easy fixes’ to #SocialSecurity. They’re not enough,” the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said on Twitter.

The CFRB said Mrs. Clinton’s plan to raise the tax cap would help, but won’t be enough. And the group said the economic growth Mr. Trump is counting on to make up deficits resulting from his tax cuts will only replace a third of the lost revenue.

The Concord Coalition, another budget watchdog, said neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump distinguished themselves with their answers for how they would tackle the ballooning federal debt.

“Neither Clinton nor Trump is truly preparing the public for hard choices and compromises, which will make it all the more difficult for whoever wins the election to solve the problems,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director at Concord. “Instead of building a mandate for comprehensive reforms, they are building in unrealistic expectations among their hard-core followers. This only risks further public cynicism.”

He said Mr. Trump’s boasts of economic growth “can hardly be called a plan,” and he said while Mrs. Clinton had more specifics, her tax increases are poured into new spending, not into reducing the imbalance in federal payments that is only going to grow as the population ages.

The government finished fiscal year 2016 on Sept. 30 with a $587 billion deficit, up substantially from the $438 billion mark the previous year.

The problems came on both sides of the ledger: Revenue rose by less than 1 percent, as the economy continued to sputter after more than seven years of recovery. And that was nowhere near enough to keep up with politicians’ appetites for more spending, which surged 5 percent.

Big increases in health care spending, coupled with a rise in interest payments on the national debt, powered the spending hikes.

“Washington is already on course to add trillions of dollars to the federal debt in the next decade, outstripping projected economic growth. So even budget plans that promise not to make the situation worse are inadequate,” Mr. Bixby said. “We must do more than tread water if we want to foster future growth, invest in national priorities and prevent our children from inheriting excessive government debt.”

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