The Congressional Budget Office’s recent projection that soaring federal red ink will hit $31.4 trillion by 2030 is an issue deserving attention this election year. That figure will be 98% of the national economy, the largest percentage of the U.S. gross national product since just after World War II.

Presidential and congressional candidates should be asked what they will do to avoid the average $1.3 trillion deficits per year in the CBO forecast. If they say spending cuts, they should provide specifics. Tax increase proposals also should be specific and tied to reasonable expectations of what they’d raise.

Budget deficits, which peaked at $1.4 trillion in 2009 before falling to $585 billion at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, are climbing again amid a strong economy. Tax cuts — which did not, as promised, pay for themselves — and an 18% increase in spending during President Donald Trump’s first three years in office are partly to blame. So is an aging population and increased spending on Social Security and Medicare.

The other fast-rising cost identified by CBO as driving future deficits is outrageous and pathetic: Interest on the federal debt, which is projected to grow more than 50% as a percentage of GDP over the same period. Those payments will cut into future spending while giving those doing the paying nothing in return. Should interest rates rise, that debt could drive them higher and harm the nation’s economy and further cut into spending needed elsewhere.

Our leaders must stop crying about waste they either never identify or never find a way to eliminate. They also must stop promising to raise taxes on someone else to raise the money for the government services we’re getting. There’s a reason President Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike included the middle class: That’s where the money is, especially when talking about reliable streams of revenue such as income taxes.

Amid a booming economy, it’s time for citizens and elected officials to consider how much government they want, and at what price.

Can we afford our existing military commitments? Defense spending is, after all, more than $600 billion, 15% of the federal budget overall and nearly half of discretionary spending.

Those running for office this year should be pressed to tell the truth, acknowledging the costs of both their big ideas and of the government we’ve got. And they need to tell us what it’s going to cost us, not the future generations already facing $31.4 trillion in government debt put on the national credit card.

Editorial by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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