Jobs and the economy have dominated campaign discourse this election season, but many voters also are worried about the federal debt and the budget deficit.
In the race for New York's 21st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said voters were more focused on the debt and deficit two to three years ago, while his Republican challenger, Watertown businessman Matt Doheny, said he hears concerns about it daily. Don Hassig, who is running on the Green Party line, said he doesn't "often encounter concerns about the deficit" when he's on the campaign trail.
As of September, public debt in the U.S. was about $11.27 trillion, while intra-governmental debt was about $4.8 trillion, for a total of approximately $16.07 trillion, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The nation's deficit, or the amount by which the government's total budget exceeds its revenues, has topped $1 trillion for four consecutive years, according to a report by the Associated Press on Friday.
CEOs from more than 80 companies issued a statement on Thursday warning that the deficit is "dampening businesses' hiring and investment and stifling the fragile economic recovery," according to the AP. They called for Congress to raise taxes and cut spending, something Owens has said he would support. In a debate in Watertown Thursday night, Doheny said the country can't afford to increase taxes at a time when businesses are struggling to survive.
Owens told the Enterprise that Congress could do a "couple of things" to start chipping away at the deficit. He said the General Accountability Office has identified $100 billion could be taken out of the budget by getting rid of redundant federal programs. Owens said doing that could also solve the problem with sequestration - automatic spending cuts that were approved with Owens' support in the Budget Control Act of 2011 - "in the short-term."
"There's over 80 programs in the federal government that address teacher performance," Owens said. "Collapse them or get them down to none and let the states handle them.
"That does two things - one, it reduces costs, and the other is it reduces regulations - in one step."
Owens said Congress also needs to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for single-filers making more than $250,000 and joint-filers earning more than $500,000. That, he said, would result in a savings of $20 billion to $60 billion annually.
Owens said he supports revamping the Internal Revenue Code and looking for ways to reduce spending elsewhere.
Doheny slammed Owens' proposals. He said Congress could immediately alleviate concerns about the debt and deficit by passing a balanced budget.
Doheny said aside from things like defense, infrastructure and social safety nets, all options should be on the table as Congress looks for spending cuts.
"When you get to things like corporate welfare, whether it's ethanol subsidies, whether it's giveaways for companies like Solyndra ... or honestly even when it comes to subsidies for oil and gas companies - we have to get out of that business," he said.
Doheny said the federal budget can be tightened across the board.
"There can always be rationing, there can always be a level of refinement of budgets," he said. "But guess what? Congress hasn't had a budget for over three years. Yet another failure on the behalf of not only my opponent but a dysfunctional Congress my opponent has been a part of.
"I will be very serious about deficit reduction. ... We need to go ahead and not just talk about deficit reduction and say we're in favor of it in an election year, but actually do that when we're in Congress, which my opponent has clearly failed to do."
Doheny also attacked Owens for his suggestion to slash duplicative federal programs, even though he agreed it was a good idea.
"My opponent has been in Congress for three years, and now we have 13 days before the election," Doheny said on Wednesday. "Why hasn't he been sponsoring bills? Why hasn't he been leading the charge on this?"
Hassig said his proposal to create an "all-defensive military" would slash the federal budget considerably. He said the U.S. should also establish tariffs on products made outside of the U.S. to "protect products manufactured in the United States." He echoed Owens' call for letting the Bush tax cuts expire.
"I am sure that there are budget cutting measures that can help reduce the deficit," Hassig said. "However, the budget cutting promoted by candidate Owens will not make the deficit disappear. The actions that I am proposing will bring an end to the deficit."
Chris Morris writes for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise of Saranac Lake.