When U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. visited a fourth-grade class at Farmville’s Sam Bundy Elementary School in 2008, he spoke about his concerns over the national debt and what it would mean for the future of the United States.

“I am concerned about how this may impact you and your teacher,” Jones said at the time. He explained to the students how the U.S. government owes trillions of dollars to other countries.

At the time, the national debt was $10 trillion.

Nine years later, in late 2017, Jones’ earned the ire of many conservatives in the 3rd Congressional District when he joined 12 other Republicans in voting against the $1.5 trillion tax package that was the centerpiece of the tax cuts President Donald J. Trump promised during his election campaign.

The nation’s debt was at $20 trillion, and Jones said the tax package would increase the debt by $2 trillion. Trump’s supporters said the economic stimulus created by the cut would generate enough tax revenue to reduce the debt.

Earlier this year the U.S. debt reached $22 trillion and discussions about the need to end deficit spending and begin reducing the debt began anew.

The Democratic and Republican candidates in the special election for the 3rd Congressional District said their past and current experiences in budgeting give them the credentials to address the national debt in Congress.

Democrat Allen Thomas said his three terms as Greenville’s mayor gave him plenty of budgeting experience.

“We need to be mindful of the fiscal position that our children and grandchildren will inherit,” Thomas said. “However, we must also keep our commitments to our families and seniors by continuing to fund the programs that help us thrive.

“My belief is that the best way to balance the budget and work at solving our massive deficit is through priority budgeting and a return to equitable tax brackets,” he said.

During a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce last week, Thomas said the nation needs to invest in the drivers of the nation’s economy. That investment should begin with the removal of regulatory control of small business owners and other areas that put money back into the economy.

“We’ve created an economy that’s created a system of tax avoidance for those of a higher (income bracket) that’s systemic across the country,” Thomas said.

Congress also must look at spending cuts, he said, pointing out that the most recent budget approved by Congress and signed by President Donald J. Trump added $1.7 trillion to the deficit.

“This from someone who said he would eliminate the deficit in eight years,” Thomas said. “This is clearly (one issue) where there is no silver bullet,”

At the same event, Murphy said entitlement spending has to be reformed and reduced.

“I’m not here to tell you want you want to hear, I’m going to tell you what you need to hear,” Murphy said. “I’m 56 years old and Social Security is right around the corner. We need to start moving that age up.”

The nation’s population is getting older, and while more people are drawing from Social Security fewer people are entering the workforce and paying into the system, he said.

“If you look at different segments of our society there has to be some review of entitlement programs,” Murphy said.

“We need to look at ways to get rid of fraud, waste and abuse in our system and actually care for people who have put into the system, but we have to change the parameters of the system,” he said.

Murphy has been involved with managing and creating the state’s budget as an appropriations chairman for four years.

“North Carolina law mandates we must present a balanced budget. We must do the same with the federal government’s,” Murphy said. “Being a congressman isn’t just about cutting ribbons and taking pictures for the press. It is about making hard decisions on behalf of this state and the nation and our collective future.”

Representatives must study issues and make judgments based upon knowledgeable assessments, he said.

“Deficit spending gives as much power and leverage to the Chinese as does their military,” Murphy said. “But it gives it to them without a single gunshot. If they control our banking and our finances, they control us. We simply must get our spending under control.”

However, slashing military spending isn’t in the best interest of national security, he said.

“We must do all we can to protect the freedom that our brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to give us,” he said.

Early voting in the election continues 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday until Sept. 6 at Alice Keene Park, 4561 County Home Road, Greenville. The site will be closed Sept. 2. Polls open at 6:30 a.m. districtwide on Election Day, Sept. 10.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.