Bipartisan group, senators push for 2012 debate on national debt

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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A bipartisan group of former politicians is throwing its weight behind a quartet of senators that has asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to dedicate one of the three 2012 debates to questions about the national debt.

In a letter to the commission on Wednesday, Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut urged moderators to ask the candidates which parts of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan they would adopt.

The senators also pushed for a “detailed discussion” of tax and entitlement reform.

Former President Bill Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, former Sen. Judd Gregg and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell followed up with a letter of their own to the commission.

“This is about both Democrats and Republicans telling Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: no pablum, please,” Davis told The Daily Caller. “We want specifics, and we want your ideas to be scored before you debate. Take your ideas to the Congressional Budget Office before the debate and prove it to the American people that there’s no BS here.”

Obama and Romney are scheduled to debate three times — Oct. 3, 16 and 22. The moderators and the networks that will broadcast the debates will be announced later this month. Davis and company want either the first or second debate to be devoted to discussing the national debt and the Obama-commissioned Simpson-Bowles report.

Davis said he called the debate commission’s co-chair, Michael McCurry — “one of the best people I know” — before sending the letter.

“I want it to be concrete,” he said of the debate. “I want moderators to ask Mitt Romney, if you are proposing this number of cuts, which programs? And it’s going to ask Barack Obama, are you willing to increase the retirement age into Social Security the way your senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, was willing to do in supporting Simpson-Bowles? Yes or no?”

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the first debate will focus on domestic policy, the second on a variety of topics in a town hall format, and the third on foreign policy.

General answers and talking points would not be welcome at the debate on the national debt, Davis said.

“In other words, ‘I want to reform Social Security’ is pablum,” he said. “Specifically what are you going to do so that Social Security doesn’t go bankrupt?”

“For me, it’s a moral issue. If I go around the world and use my credit card and I dump the receipt on my 14-year-old’s lap and say, ‘Okay, you pay for this when you grow up,’ it’s immoral,” Davis said. “And we’re using our credit cards for our expenses rather than paying for it.”

He acknowledged that a specific discussion of the issue requires a firm moderator. He cited former PBS “NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer as a someone who would ask tough questions and also said NBC News’ Brian Williams and ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos “probably would be great.”

“We’re trying to trigger a movement here, that the country may be polarized on this issue. It’s not on this issue, and the funny thing is that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney have addressed this issue.”

“They’ve both ducked, which is why there’s a huge vacuum here that one of those two people can fill, and I think the first one who fills it can win the election,” Davis predicted.

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