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Just a day after finishing far back in the Republican pack in Iowa, Jeb Bush sought a fresh start in New Hampshire with an appearance at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge.
Among other things, Bush responded to an attendee’s question about the national debt with an observation about how little attention the debt has gotten in the presidential campaign.
The debt "comes up all the time in town meetings ... but it's never asked in the debates," Bush said. "It's really weird. It hasn't been brought up."
Really? No moderator asked about the debt, and no candidate volunteered anything about it?
We found that hard to believe -- and it turns out, Bush’s memory on this one is faulty. (Bush has taken part in each of the seven main-stage debates in 2015 and 2016.) His campaign did not respond to an inquiry.
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Examples of questions about the debt asked during a debate
In the Milwaukee debate Nov. 10, 2015, Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo relayed a question from a Facebook user to Ohio Gov. John Kasich: "We are approaching $20 trillion in national debt. Specifically, what plans do you have to cut federal spending?"
Bartiromo went on to say that "the national debt is at record highs and growing unsustainably. Interest will be the fastest-growing part of the federal budget, tripling over the next 10 years. Social Security, the lifeline of millions of American seniors, is rushing toward insolvency. With all of the tax plans presented tonight, estimated to cost anywhere between $2 trillion and $12 trillion over a decade, what specific steps will you take to balance the budget?"
Kasich talked about his budget record as governor and plans for taxes and spending if he were elected president.
"Lower taxes, lower spending," he said. "My website, JohnKasich.com, will show you exactly how we balance the budget. I balanced the budget in Washington as a chief architect, and I have balanced it in Ohio for one reason. When you balance the budget and you cut taxes, people get work.
In the GOP debate in North Charleston, S.C., Jan. 15, 2016, Fox Business News’ Bartiromo again brought up the debt. She cited "the $19 trillion debt" in a question to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about infrastructure spending.
Bartiromo later addressed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., saying, "One of the biggest fiscal challenges is our entitlement programs, particularly Social Security and Medicare. What policies will you put forward to make sure these programs are more financially secure?"
Both Christie and Rubio proceeded to answer her question by discussing their plans for taxes and spending. Other candidates joined the discussion as well.
Christie also made a point of discussing his plan to shrink spending on entitlements such as Social Security over the long term.
"The reason why that no one wants to answer entitlements up here is because it's hard," Christie said. "It's a hard problem. And I'm the only one up on this stage who back in April put forward a detailed entitlement reform plan that will save over $1 trillion, save Social Security, save Medicare, and avoid what Hillary Rodham Clinton will do to you."
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Examples of candidates bringing up the debt on their own
In the Las Vegas debate Dec. 15, 2015, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used his closing statement to address the debt.
"The greatest threat to our national security is our debt," Paul said. "We borrow a million dollars a minute. And whose fault is it? Well, frankly, it's both parties' fault. You have those on the right who clamor and say, oh, we will spend anything on the military, and those on the left who say the same for domestic welfare. But what most Americans don't realize is there is an unholy alliance. They come together. There's a secret handshake. We spend more money on everything. And we are not a stronger nation if we go further into debt. We are not projecting power from bankruptcy court."
Marco Rubio: "How about Obamacare, a certified job killer? It needs to be repealed and replaced. And we need to bring our debt under control, make our economy stronger.
Paul: "I'm worried about the country and how much debt we're adding. And I am the one true fiscal conservative who will look at all spending. And that's the only way we'll ever balance our budget."
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A question about the debt limit
At the Boulder debate, Oct. 28, 2015, CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla asked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about the debt limit, which is related to the larger question of the federal debt because Congress must periodically reauthorize issuing more debt if the country is to avoid default.
"Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent the government shutdown, and calm financial markets’ that fear that another Washington-created crisis is on the way," he asked Cruz. "Does your opposition to it show you’re not the kind of problem-solver that American voters want?"
Cruz sidestepped the question.
Bush said that the debt "comes up all the time in town meetings ... but it's never asked in the debates. It's really weird. It hasn't been brought up."
Questions about the size of the debt were most clearly asked in two of the debates, and perhaps that count could be expanded to a third if you include a question about the debt limit. A few candidates also brought up the issue on their own.
We rate the claim False.
Milwaukee Republican debate transcript
North Charleston, S.C., Republican debate transcript
Las Vegas Republican debate transcript
Des Moines, Iowa, Republican debate transcript
Boulder, Colo., Republican debate transcript
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