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America's federal debt is closing in on $22 trillion.

Twenty-two trillion.

A strategy of deficits and rising debt is unsustainable. At some point, our country must give this problem the attention it deserves through what will be a difficult, but essential national conversation.

The 2020 campaign for president forming in Iowa strikes us as a good place to start.

In anticipation of next year's first-in-the-nation caucuses, visits to Iowa by potential presidential candidates have begun. Their numbers and the frequency of their visits will grow as the calendar pages turn.

What is predicted to be a large field of perhaps nearly two dozen candidates seeking to be the Democratic Party's nominee against President Trump will make obligatory promises. Most, if not all of them will involve spending money. Lots of money.

The question to which Iowans should demand an answer in response to candidate wish lists: How will you pay for everything you propose?

It's easy for candidates to make broad pledges. What we as Iowans should do is pin them down on how exactly they intend to fulfill them.

Our state's enviable leadoff status is something in which we take pride. When presidential campaigns descend on this state every four years, we believe they find educated, engaged Americans who care passionately about their country, who take seriously their responsibilities in this process and who put candidates to the test in direct fashion. It's retail politicking at the grassroots level in its purest form.

It's also a position of deep responsibility.

Iowans should embrace this unique opportunity and fulfill the important obligation we have to the rest of America by producing dialogue about federal red ink - an issue our nation can't keep pushing off - with the next crop of Democratic candidates for president.

Finally, we wish to be clear. We give no one holding elected office in Washington, D.C., a pass on debt. Indeed, federal debt grew by nearly $3 trillion in the first two years of the Trump administration - two years in which both chambers of Congress were controlled by Republicans.

Iowans - indeed, all Americans - should hold everyone's feet to the fire on this issue every chance we get.

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