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Now, what was that matter we were going to discuss once the economy bounced back — the one so important to the future of younger generations?

Oh yes, our national finances — and, specifically, the federal deficit, now at about $534 billion, and our national debt, at about $14 trillion. So how is this campaign’s crop of would-be presidents dealing with that issue?

Basically by ignoring it.

“This really ranks as one of the most fiscally irresponsible campaigns in recent memory,” says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog.

Yes, Republicans rail about the record federal debt, but “the leading candidates have put forward a suite of policies that would balloon the debt by trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars,” MacGuineas says.


Give the two Democrats credit for providing some idea of how they would pay for their new spending. But they have little or nothing to say about how they’ll deal with our existing fiscal problems.

“It’s like paying to put an extension on your house when you can’t afford the house itself,” notes Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, another bipartisan nonprofit focused on fiscal responsibility.

Politically, deficit and debt are thankless issues. (The deficit is the annual budgetary imbalance, the debt is those imbalances accumulated over time.) Addressing them means cutting spending or raising taxes, or some combination, which will be felt immediately by someone. By a lot of someones. The positives, contrariwise, are longer range and more abstract. And the benefitting generations are far less organized than those who would feel the bite of deficit reduction.

But the problem can’t be avoided forever. In fiscal year 2015, the deficit was equal to about 2.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product, which is probably sustainable. However, given our current fiscal path, it will hit $1 trillion a year by 2022, or 4.4 percent of GDP, which is clearly back in the danger zone.


Against that backdrop, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both proposed huge new tax cuts, without anything close to realistic spending reductions. Trump’s plans would slash revenues by at least $9.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the Tax Policy Center. Cruz’s tax cut plans would shrink them by $8.6 trillion.

That would mean almost a 20 percent revenue loss even as our fiscal problems worsen. John Kasich’s plans are still too vague for analysis, but would probably also create significant budgetary problems.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been busy offering nifty new programs and spending.

Hillary Clinton would raise and spend about $1.1 trillion in new tax revenue over 10 years; another $110 billion annually isn’t chump change, but it’s relatively modest.

“In the context of the current debate, anyone having plans that wouldn’t bankrupt us is a plus,” quips Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center.

Sanders, by contrast, would raise and spend at least an additional $1.5 trillion per year. Now, of that, $1.38 trillion would fund his single-payer health care plan, meaning the tax cost would be offset to some degree by eliminating health insurance premiums and payments. But Kenneth Thorpe, a well-regarded health policy expert, thinks Sanders’ plan would cost $1.1 trillion more annually than his estimate. Further, MacGuineas’s group says there’s a $260 billion yearly gap between Sanders’ other policy plans and his proposed funding.

So, to sum it all up: Of all the candidates, Clinton is the most realistic about her own plans, but even she neglects the larger issue of our troubling deficit and debt trajectory.


As for the others? They all need to sharpen their pencils and head back to the drawing board — if they want to be taken seriously on fiscal issues, that is.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.