Election 2014  
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Five Big Issues You Won't Hear About in the Presidential Debates

Here’s a brief guide to what you won’t hear in the presidential and vice-presidential debates this month. Think of these as five hard truths that will determine the future of this country.

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But you’ll hear none of this in the presidential debates. Perhaps the candidates will mention that obsolete, ineffective, and wildly expensive weapons systems could be cut, but that’s a no-brainer. The problem is: it wouldn’t put a real dent in national defense spending.  Currently  almost one-fifth of every dollar spent by the federal government goes to the military.  On average, Americans, when polled, say that they would like to see military funding cut by  18%.

Instead, most elected officials vow to pour limitless resources into more weapons systems of questionable efficacy, and of which the U.S. already owns more than the rest of the world combined.  Count on one thing: military spending will not go down as long as the U.S. is building up a massive force in the Persian Gulf, sending Marines to  Darwin, Australia, and  special ops units to Africa and the Middle East, running drones out of the  Seychelles Islands, and  “pivoting” to Asia.  If the U.S. global mission doesn’t downsize, neither will the Pentagon budget -- and that’s a hit on America’s future that no debate will take up this month.

5.  The U.S. education system is what made this country prosperous in the twentieth century -- but no longer: Perhaps no issue is more urgent than this, yet for all the talk of teacher’s unions and testing, real education programs, ideas that will matter, are nonexistent this election season. During the last century, the best  education system in the world allowed this country to grow briskly and lift standards of living. Now, from kindergarten to college, public education is chronically underfunded.  Scarcely 2% of the federal budget goes to education, and dwindling public investment means students pay  higher tuitions and fall  ever deeper into debt. Total student debt surpassed  $1 trillion this year and it’s growing by the month, with the average  debt burden for a college graduate over $24,000. That will leave many of those graduates on a treadmill of loan repayment for most or all of their adult lives.

Renewed public investment in education -- from pre-kindergarten to university -- would pay handsome dividends for generations.  But you aren’t going to hear either candidate or their vice-presidential running mates proposing the equivalent of a GI Bill for the rest of us or even significant new investment in education.  And yet that’s a recipe for and a guarantee of American decline. 

Ironically, those in Washington arguing for urgent deficit reduction claim that we’ve got to do it “for the kids,” that we must stop saddling our grandchildren with mountains of federal debt. But if your child turns 18 and finds her government running a balanced budget in an America that's hollowed out, an America where she has no chance of paying for a college education, will she celebrate? You don’t need an economist to answer that one.

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