The candidates vying for Tennessee's open senate seat say they have a plan to address the national debt, which has grown to more than $21 trillion and continues to grow at almost a trillion a year. 

Addressing the national deficit in America is something former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen said he knows how to do.

"I just think having control of your financial situation is a precursor to being able to do all the things that government ought to be able to do for the people of Tennessee," Bredesen said.

To an audience at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, Bredesen said his plan includes calling on the president and congress to hold spending at about $3-trillion for the next six years, with the exception of social security.

"If you pin spending, without gimmicks like making up for inflation, and let revenues catch up with it, at a projected growth rate of 5.15%, our deficit would be wiped in the next 5.7 years," Bredesen said.

Bredesen said both Democrats and Republicans talk a lot about fixing the deficit, but there's been little action from either party.

In his plan he said, if President Donald Trump wants to balance the budget, he could get it done within his time in office if he has a second term, which Bredesen said is not some far away lofty goal. 

"I mean if the president simply said 'I'm not going to sign budgets that are more than $3.2 trillion dollars,' that would take you a long way down the road, enforcing that to happen," Bredesen explained.

Similarly, his opponent, Republican U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, said congress needs to amend the constitution by requiring the federal government to balance its budget.

Blackburn did not appear in-person Tuesday, but sent her plan to Channel 3.

She said to reduce the national debt, she would push for reforming entitlement programs, reduce spending and make the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 permanent. 

Blackburn said she's been a "deficit hawk" in the house and plans to do the same if elected to the senate.

"I think being a deficit hawk means doing more than just saying you're a deficit hawk, and I'm just trying to put something on the table here to say if you want to cut this deficit down, here's an approach to doing it," Bredesen said.

You may remember, last week Blackburn declined to face-off against Bredesen in an October 1st debate in Chattanooga. Bredesen accepted and said he wanted to address regional issues specific to the Tennessee Valley.

"Her declining to come to Chattanooga or Memphis, I don't understand the rationale for that. I think it's a real disappointment to both those communities," Bredesen responded.

Blackburn and Bredesen did agree on two statewide debates. One is set for September 25, at Cumberland University and the other on October 10, in Knoxville. 

Here's a summary of Phil Bredesen's balanced budget proposal sent by Bredesen's campaign:

  • If the Congress had the discipline to simply hold the expenditures of the federal government (except Social Security) at their current level for about 6 years, we would no longer have a deficit.
  • Set an overall spending number and let revenues catch up with it
    • Forget mandatory, discretionary, PAYGO
    • Not inflation adjusted (1.9%)
  • Estimated expenditures for FY 2018 are $3.316 trillion, so pin the spending to this number. Revenues for FY 2018 are $2.488 trillion, which makes the deficit of $828 billion
  • Assuming the growth rate of on-budget revenues is 5.15% every year
  • The question becomes-- how long does it take to grow $2.488 billion into $3.316 billion at a growth rate of 5.15%? Answer is 5.7 years.
    • 2.488 (1 + .0515)^X= 3.316
    • X = 5.7 years
  • Congress must then assign a target to each department (and within the departments to each section).  Right now, there is a free for all the 16 Senate and 18 House committees.
  • Congress and departments need to work together to determine the best ways to meet the overall target.  Not taking jurisdiction from all these committees, just giving them a number to work to. This is what everyone in the else in the country has to do.
  • During Congresswoman Blackburn's 16 years in Congress, the national debt has soared more than 240% to $21 trillion and the annual federal deficit doubled to more than $800 billion.
  • Governor Bredesen has a proven track record of rolling up his sleeves and tackling tough problems to get things done for Tennessee. He balanced all eight budgets without an income tax or an increase in the sales tax, closed corporate tax loopholes with overwhelming bipartisan support, and is ready to help address the ballooning national debt as a member of the U.S. Senate.

Benefits of Bredesen's proposal:

  • Focus is on expenses, not finding new revenues.  New revenues don't let you kick the can down the road, but new revenues can shorten the time period to completion.
  • Gentle phase-in.  Not chop, but not back-load.
  • Simple and clear, no gobbledygook.  Public can follow. Each year, a simple question.  Do the budgets add up to $3.316 trillion or not?
  • Resistant to the usual game-playing.  Selling assets, overestimating revenues, etc.
  • Not grand gestures, political theater.  Lots of detailed choices proposed by people closest to the front lines.
  • Grown-up way to budget.

Summary of Marsha Blackburn's balanced budget proposal sent by Blackburn's campaign


  • The national debt currently sits at 21.4 trillion dollars.  This is the result of prior Republican and Democrat administrations kicking the can down the road and refusing to tighten Washington's fiscal belt.   


  • We must stand ready to make difficult choices.  Blackburn's pathway to balance the budget and reduce our long-term debt involves the following: 


  • Congress should pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution requiring the federal government to balance its budget just like our state is required. Such an amendment would be approved by two thirds of the House and Senate and ratified by three-fourths of the states. 


  • Across the board spending cuts – with an exception for military spending – are a solution that would reduce spending in a neutral and fair manner because everyone shoulders some of the responsibility.  The advantage of passing such legislation is that it can be acted upon quickly.  Time is of the essence, and our national debt continues to skyrocket out of control.
  • In addition, mandatory spending accounts for approximately 60 percent of all federal monies spent.  Social Security is projected to be insolvent by 2034 and Medicare will run out of money by 2026. We must reform entitlement programs by embracing ideas such as block granting Medicaid to the states. Our trust funds, Social Security and Medicare must be stabilized for younger workers, and eligibility requirements reviewed to save these programs for future generations. 


  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has spurred the economy to four percent growth, sustained record low unemployment, and put more money into the pockets of hard-working Tennesseans.  These tax cuts were not "crumbs."  Rather, they were a solution that yielded tremendous economic impacts.
  • Congress should move to make the tax cuts permanent and examine further cuts for the middle class and small businesses.  Cutting spending alone will not solve the problem, we must grow our economy.  Tennesseans have witnessed first hand the benefits of economic growth resulting from low taxation.