With the first presidential debate scheduled for Monday, September 26, debate preparations have begun for each of the candidates. For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that Governor Johnson isn’t going to be included in the first debate as he is currently polling at between 10 and 11% and needs to get to 15% in order to be included.
As the moderators are determined and the venues and dates locked down, it’s easy to speculate about what the key issues will be during the debates. After all, we have been hearing from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on several of these topics since they announced their candidacies and the press has continued to focus on this limited number of issues.
Topics that are sure to be focal points of the upcoming presidential debates include: Illegal Immigration, National Security, Health Care, Taxes and Trade Policy. While the moderators will focus on the most incendiary and therefore the most hot-button topics for ratings, voters will likely be denied a substantive discussion on the issues that matter to them.
The 5 biggest issues that we probably won’t hear much if anything about during the presidential debates include: Campaign Finance Reform, Energy Policy, Social Security Reform, Paid Family and Medical Leave, and the Budget Deficit / National Debt.
1. Campaign Finance / Electoral Reform
There are several issues surrounding campaign finance and electoral reform that have been elevated this election cycle. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both been very vocal about reversing the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and Donald Trump has called the Republican nomination process “rigged” in addition to complaining about “being treated unfairly.” Trump has even gone on to ask his supporters to watch the polls this November for signs of voter fraud.
Despite increased interest surrounding campaign finance reform and electoral reform, it’s highly unlikely that the moderators will open this up for discussion. Unlike issues such as National Security and Health Care, which are hot-button issues that most Americans have an active interest in, campaign finance reform and electoral reform aren’t topics that many understand or have a vested interest in. In fact, a Washington Post research poll indicated that only 40% of Americans knew what a Super PAC even was. While you may hear one of the candidates mention campaign finance reform, it won’t be an issue that moderators spend much time on.
2. Energy Policy
With low gas prices and a decreasing reliance on foreign oil, a discussion on the U.S.’s energy policy might be easily crowded out by topics seen as more pressing and timely. While it may be true that low gas prices have reduced most Americans’ desire to drive less and shift to alternative fuel vehicles, issues surrounding fracking, energy independence, and moving toward an increased use of renewable energy sources needs to be addressed.
Another reason why it’s important to include Energy Policy during the presidential debates is the link between U.S. energy policy and the impact on climate change.
While some politicians continue to turn a blind eye to the scientific evidence that climate change is real, according to a recent poll, 70% of Americans believe that climate change is real and nearly two-thirds of respondents wanted elected officials to do something about it.
3. Social Security Reform
While the Social Security Trust Fund isn’t going to run out in the next 10 years, some estimates from those running the Social Security Trust Fund see a possibility of exhausting the ability to pay benefits within as little as 20 years without changes to the way the system is funded.
No politician wants to address the issue of how to lengthen the longevity of the Social Security Trust Fund as it usually involves increasing the caps on the Social Security tax and possibly increasing the age of eligibility. Social Security is one of the topics that politicians have considered the “third rail” and it won’t be at the top of the list for discussions. In addition, moderators will want to steer away from topics that are heavily focused on economics as they can sometimes become granular and leave audiences bored or confused.
4. Paid Family and Medical Leave
While the U.S. is the only industrialized nation to not provide paid maternity leave, it’s not an issue that has been at the top of vert many stump speeches or rallying cries like the issues of Immigration or National Security have been. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been the two most outspoken proponents of paid family and medical leave and have championed 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. However, it hasn’t created very much controversy on the campaign trail and will probably be an issue left out of the debates due to its inability to incite a spirited debate.
5. Budget Deficit and National Debt
The last time I can recall the budget deficit and the national debt being discussed in a presidential debate was when Ross Perot forced the issue during the 1992 presidential debates. Republicans and Democrats have both seemed to have given up on balancing the budget and reducing the debt, and many Americans have also lost interest in this topic as well.
Neither Trump’s nor Hillary’s economic plans address the need for a balanced budget during their administration and economists who have reviewed each of their plans found that each adds billions in additional spending to the current projected budget deficit of $590 billion. The reason why this is an issue that needs to be discussed is that each year we continue to run a deficit we further add to the national debt and the amount of interest we need to pay on that debt.
Each year, we pay increasingly more and more toward interest payments which will crowd out our ability to spend money in other key areas such as infrastructure, paying down the national debt, education, caring for veterans, and more.
With interest rates being close to zero over the past few years, it’s been easier to keep debt service low, but when rates rise (and they will at some point), we will need to borrow at higher and higher rates which will further bankrupt the nation.
A Daunting Task for the New President and Congress
After putting together the list of the topics that will be most heavily featured during the debates (Illegal Immigration, National Security, Health Care, Taxes and Trade Policy) and the issues most likely to not be covered in depth (Campaign Finance Reform, Energy Policy, Social Security Reform, Paid Family and Medical Leave and the Budget Deficit / National Debt), it’s obvious that whomever the next president is, they will have their work cut out for them.