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Debt Fails to Get a Hearing


The silence continues. After four televised debates among the Democratic candidates for president, there has not been a single question about our national debt.

Since the first debate in June, held over two nights, several articles have raised the question, “Where’s the Debt?”. One of the first to do so was by Richard Cowan, writing for Reuters, just two weeks after the first debates. Cowan noted that neither “deficit” or “debt” had been mentioned during the fours hours of debate despite a national debt that now is “equal to about $68,000 for every American.”

Cowan pointed out that the Democratic candidates have focused their attention on new spending programs like “Medicare for All” and tuition-free college and efforts to combat climate change. Bringing up the issue of the debt would be counter-productive to their campaigns.

Republicans are likewise not eager to speak about the debt or push for moderators to raise any questions about it. As Cowan reminds us, despite Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to eliminate the debt over eight years, the debt has instead increased by about 10% since he took office. And it is projected to increase another 20% over the next ten years.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) is calling out the moderators for their lack of responsible questioning. In Roll Call before the third debate, CRFB board members David Minge and Tim Penny pointed out that there had been 229 questions asked by moderators, but not one was about the debt. By the time Marjorie Margolies drafted her op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer prior to the fourth debate in October, the number of moderator questions had risen to 297. Still, none addressed the debt.

By our count, moderators in the fourth debate asked another 79 questions on 15 topics. The national debt was not among them.

So, in response to the question, “Where’s the Debt?”, the evidence suggests that, unlike Waldo, who is famous for hiding in pictures, the debt is not even inside the frame. The picture in that frame is being drawn not by the Democratic candidates or their Republican opposition, but by respected news men and women.

Related Problem: National Debt

Written by George Linzer

Published on November 5, 2019

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Richard Cowan, “As U.S. debt, deficits mount, presidential candidates sweep them under the rug”, Reuters, Jul 12, 2019,, accessed Nov 3, 2019

David Minge, Tim Penny, “Debating 2020 Democrats should not ignore our exploding debt”, Roll Call, Sep 11, 2019,, accessed Nov 3, 2019

Marjorie Margolies, “When will the 2020 presidential candidates be asked about America’s debt?”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep 23, 2019,, accessed Nov 3, 2019

The Fix team, “The October Democratic debate transcript”, Washington Post, Oct 16, 2019,, accessed Nov 3, 2019

Wikipedia, “2020 Democratic Party presidential debates and forums”,, accessed Nov 3, 2019

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