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Getting Out of Debt

Where Clinton and Trump Stand on the Public Debt

Neither candidate has published a plan on getting the country out of debt, but paying down the debt remains an issue important to voters.

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Key differences: Trump has proposed cutting the $19 trillion U.S. debt by giving bondholders less than the face value of the money owed to them. Clinton doesn't have a specific plan for paying down the national debt, although she would pay for new programs by raising taxes on the wealthy. Neither candidate has put forth a plan for paying down the debt.

See Also: Get-Out-of-Debt Quiz

Key Clinton quote: "If you look at the evidence at the end of Bill Clinton’s two terms, we had the longest peacetime expansion in American history, with 22 million new jobs, a balanced budget and a surplus that would have paid off our national debt had they not been so rudely interrupted by the next administration.”

Key Trump quote: “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”

Both the Clinton and Trump budget plans would increase U.S. debt over a 10-year period, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Clinton’s proposals would increase debt by $250 billion, while Trump’s would increase debt by $11.5 trillion. Although both candidates have acknowledged the seriousness of America’s current and future fiscal state, neither has suggested a feasible plan to address the issue.

Clinton doesn’t have an official platform regarding debt. She contends the U.S. wouldn’t be facing a debt crisis if her husband’s efforts had been continued by the administration of his successor, George W. Bush. She would offset increased spending in areas such as infrastructure, energy and higher education by raising taxes on the wealthy. However, in order to keep U.S. debt from rising further after enacting these proposals, the CRFB estimates that Clinton would also need to cut total spending by 6% to 15%, increase all tax rates by 3.5% to 8.5%, accelerate annual real gross domestic product growth by 35% to 125%, or use a combination of the three strategies.

Trump’s campaign website doesn’t provide any details for paying off the national debt, but he has shared several ideas. One that created controversy during the GOP primaries involves paying bondholders less than the face value of the money owed to them. Economists have widely ridiculed the plan, saying it would likely backfire because 55% of the country’s debt is held by Americans, who hold bonds in their 401(k)s and pension plans. Paying these citizens less than their due would hurt retirement prospects, as well as the stability of U.S. Treasury bonds. As the CRFB advises in its report, Trump’s more realistic options are cutting federal spending, increasing taxes and encouraging economic growth.

Neither candidate devoted time in their convention speeches to how they would pay down the debt. Trump voiced his disgust at what he sees as the cause of the debt – President Barack Obama’s leadership, which he claims “doubled the national debt” over his two terms.

See Also: America's Perilous National Debt

Sarah Smith contributed to this report.