U.S. Senate race: Brown, Renacci squabble over cause of ballooning national debt

Sherrod Brown and Jim Renacci
Caption
Sherrod Brown and Jim Renacci

Credit: Bill Clark

Credit: Bill Clark

Brown pins blame on tax cuts, while Renacci says entitlement reform is needed.

They don’t see eye-to-eye on the national debt, or at least on what caused it. They are diametrically opposed on what to do about health care costs. And there are stark differences between the two candidates on a host of other issues, including last year’s tax cuts.

In their race for the U.S. Senate in Ohio this year, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Jim Renacci are putting the major policy differences between Democrats and Republicans on full display.

The federal deficit is a case in point. Last week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the budget deficit in the first 11 months of the fiscal year was $895 billion, or $222 billion higher than the previous year.

ExploreRELATED: Federal deficit to end fiscal year near $1T

To Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland seeking his third term in the Senate, the ballooning debt is due to the massive tax cuts approved by Congress last year and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

To Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth closing out his fourth term in Congress, the driver of the debt is not the tax cuts but a baby-boom generation that is retiring in droves and squeezing the federal pots of Social Security and Medicare.

Neither position seems destined to end the stalemate in Washington or curb the growing debts that experts say can eventually threaten the economy and stability of federal health and retirement programs.

Many budget analysts say bringing the debt held by the public under control would require a combination of tax increases on all households and restraints in the future growth of the federal entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

ExplorePART 2: Where do Brown, Renacci stand on national security issues

‘Massive fiscal challenge’

Since Trump’s election in 2016, GOP lawmakers have emphasized deep tax cuts over reducing the deficit while Democrats refuse to consider changes such as means-testing 0n entitlement spending or raising the retirement age to curtail automatic spending increases.

“The country faces a massive fiscal challenge with national debt at near record levels,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in Washington. “There is no conceivable way this will get fixed without addressing entitlement spending and taxes.”

Caption
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Caption
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Politicians looking at one side of the budget or proposing to make things worse are not leveling with voters on what has to happen to get serious about the debt,” she said.

So far, Brown and Renacci are staying in their respective corners. In an interview, Brown said he was “not going to play this game that we give these huge tax cuts to rich people and then we’re going to pay for them by going after the most vulnerable people that average $1,200 a month in their Social Security check.”

“We give tax (cuts) to rich people and then make their employees wait two or three more years before they’re eligible for Medicare? Sorry,” he said.

From his side, Renacci put the blame for the debt increase on the country’s changing demographics in which millions of baby boomers are retiring and are eligible for Social Security and Medicare.

“We have a problem where people are retiring at a clip of 10,000 people a day since 2010, and we have a system that was set up based on people dying at the age of 65,” said Renacci, referring to President Franklin Roosevelt signing Social Security into law in 1935.

“That system isn’t working anymore and we need to fix the system. We have too many people that are living past 65, God bless them — that’s a positive — but it was not planned when the system was put in place.”

ExploreRELATED: Ohio officials cautious on Trump move on NAFTA

Stark differences

The debt is just one of a number of stark differences between Brown and Renacci. Brown was a supporter of the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare while Renacci has cast at least a dozen House votes to repeal the law, which extended health coverage to more than 20 million Americans.

Although Renacci has hinted that Brown would support a single-payer health care system such as Medicare for all Americans, Brown did not co-sponsor a bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which would create such a system.

Caption
Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, shown here with President Donald Trump, has major policy differences with his opponent in the Senate race in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown, seeking this third term, says the Trump tax cuts of last year are ballooning the deficit and benefitting mostly the rich. Renacci is a strong backer of the tax cuts - and Trump - and says Brown is mistaken about the tax cut benefits. GETTY PHOTO.

Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, shown here with President Donald Trump, has major policy differences with his opponent in the Senate race in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown, seeking this third term, says the Trump tax cuts of last year are ballooning the deficit and benefitting mostly the rich. Renacci is a strong backer of the tax cuts - and Trump - and says Brown is mistaken about the tax cut benefits. GETTY PHOTO.
Caption
Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, shown here with President Donald Trump, has major policy differences with his opponent in the Senate race in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown, seeking this third term, says the Trump tax cuts of last year are ballooning the deficit and benefitting mostly the rich. Renacci is a strong backer of the tax cuts - and Trump - and says Brown is mistaken about the tax cut benefits. GETTY PHOTO.

Brown and Renacci also sharply disagree on the 2009 federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, with Brown saying it saved tens of thousands of jobs and Renacci complaining that the bailout was structured in a way that forced the two companies to close 126 dealerships and eliminate 6,300 Ohio jobs.

Renacci has said the closure of his Chevrolet dealership in Wadsworth motivated him to run for Congress in 2010.

ExploreRELATED: Ad accuses Sherrod Brown of domestic abuse; ex-wife points fingers at Renacci, calls him shameless

Ballooning debt

As recently as 2001, the federal government operated an annual surplus. But tax reductions in 2001 and last year combined with recessions in 2000 and 2008 and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan transformed surpluses into annual deficits that are spiraling toward $1 trillion a year.

In an ominous June report, the CBO projected that debt held by the public compared to gross domestic product would climb from 78 percent to 100 percent in 2028 and 152 percent in 2048, by far the highest in the history of the United States.

Even more alarming, to keep debt at its current level of 78 percent compared to the size of the economy, the CBO estimates that Congress every year would have to increase revenues by 11 percent and slash spending by 10 percent.

Brown blames the media for stories suggesting that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are needed to slow the growth in the deficit.

“Well, preach against them for the tax cuts,” he said.

ExploreRELATED: Renacci camp says race is still close

Brown opposed the 10-year, $1.5 trillion tax cut Congress approved last year, as well as the 2001 and 2003 so-called Bush cuts that led to more deficit spending. He also has proposed allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which he claims will save money.

Renacci, however, just as strongly rejects Brown’s claim that the tax cut only helped the wealthy, saying Brown “needs to start looking at the statistics. The average family in the state of Ohio will get $2,000 back on their tax return because of the tax cut. That is not crumbs. That’s a car payment over 12 months; that is a repair of your refrigerator, that’s a repair of your car.”

Renacci wants to double down on tax cuts. Because many of the individual tax reductions in the tax bill signed by Trump are scheduled to expire in 2025, Renacci supports a bill backed by GOP leaders that would extend those cuts. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation last week projected the bill would add another $630.9 billion in fresh debt by 2028.

“Ultimately this is unsustainable and there will be some kind of a fiscal reckoning,” said MacGuineas. “This debt means our entire economy is on a weak and risky foundation.”

ExplorePART 1: Trump major focus in Senate race in Ohio


Where they stand

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Rep. Jim Renacci are far apart on a number of issues. Here are some of their differences.

Immigration

Renacci: Supports border wall, opposes so-called "sanctuary cities" that protect undocumented immigrants; backs nationwide E-Verify system that would require businesses to check if their employees are legally permitted to work in the United States.

Brown: Has criticized President Donald Trump's immigration policy, saying the government has no business deporting immigrants who have lived in the United States for years; backed a 2013 immigration compromise that would have increased border security and created a path to citizenship; supports using technology like ground sensors, arguing they are more effective and less costly to taxpayers than a wall.

Both Brown and Renacci have criticized Trump’s now defunct policy that effectively separated families who entered the United States illegally.

Guns/Second Amendment rights

Renacci: Has a lifetime A rating with the National Rifle Association; co-sponsored a bill to ensure the validity of any state-issued concealed carry license or permit in any other state that allows concealed carry; supported a number of other measures to preserve and expand gun rights.

Brown: Pushed measures to require those buying weapons online or at gun shows to undergo the same background check as someone buying them at a store in Ohio; supports curbs on gun stocks, which turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon; backed a measure to pay for school security improvements and invest in early intervention programs to prevent school violence.

Health Care

Renacci: Opposes the Medicaid expansion and wants to scrap the Affordable Care Act, saying it is beyond repair; favors replacing the 2010 law with a "patient-centric, market-based system driven by competition and defined by choice, affordability, and access to quality care"; wants to preserve some aspects of Obamacare, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance longer.

Brown: Has fought GOP efforts to repeal the ACA; has urged Congress to pass a bill that would add a public option to individual marketplaces to give consumers increased access to affordable plans; supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid.

Reproductive rights

Renacci: Cosponsored bill to would remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood; supported the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which extended legal protection to infants born alive after a failed attempt at abortion.

Brown: Backed bills aimed at maintaining and expanding access to birth control and family planning services; fought GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

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