Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

8 Things Business Leaders Would Ask Trump and Clinton at the First Debate

September 26, 2016, 3:56 PM UTC
Hofstra University Prepares To Host First Presidential Debate Of 2016 Election
HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25: Monitors at the sound board display the debate logo during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University on September 25, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to debate Donald Trump tomorrow evening. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer—Getty Images

As business leaders, we will watch tonight’s presidential debate with our country’s economic future in mind. At a time of political gridlock, we must put aside partisanship to clearly determine what is best for business and our economy based not on either party’s ideology, but on the facts at hand.

To better understand which candidate will best serve our economy, the moderator should ask the following eight questions at the debate:

  1. The federal government’s debt burden is rising, and is approaching the largest level in American history, which was at the end of World War II. If financial markets raise interest rates by even small margins, the debt could get out of hand very quickly. How long can we wait before we begin to address this looming crisis?
  2. Social Security and Medicare are the primary causes of rising government spending and debt. Will you propose changes to make these systems more efficient? And if so, how will you do so while protecting today’s seniors?
  1. Thirty years ago, the United States reformed its tax system to close loopholes and lower rates without losing revenue. Would you seek to reform our tax system? And how would your tax proposals compare to that standard?
  1. How can the United States remain the world leader in business if we raise tariffs and other barriers to shut competitor nations out of our market and continue protecting our businesses? Won’t third-party nations reject our goods if they are of uncompetitive quality due to tariff protection? If we protect U.S. manufacturers and they fall behind global standards, how will they help keep our military the world’s strongest?
  1. As our economy adjusts in a globalized system, how would you retrain and reemploy workers in fading industries and in parts of the country that rely on those industries?
  1. With college tuition rising even faster than health care costs, how would you keep the upward ladder of education—still the key to achieving the American dream—open for our young people?
  1. This year’s election campaign will set yet another spending record, leaving the candidates open to influence by wealthy contributors. Do you plan to reform the system? And if so, how?
  1. Congress has been in virtual gridlock for years. What would be your plan to change the tone and workings of Congress, so that we can achieve compromises on critical issues facing our nation? How will you address the seemingly insurmountable partisan warfare in Washington?


Certainly there are a range of concerns shaping the election conversation, from international tensions to immigration, but today’s rising public debt and sluggish income growth mean that domestic policy decisions on economic issues are of utmost importance. If we business leaders don’t stand up for the future of economic growth by asking tough questions of the candidates, our country won’t have the prosperity necessary to address its many other issues.

Steve Odland is CEO of the Committee for Economic Development and former CEO of Office Depot and AutoZone. Joe Minarik is senior vice president and director of research of the Committee for Economic Development. Both are the co-authors of the forthcoming book, Sustaining Capitalism: Bipartisan Solutions for Reform.