Part 2—The GOP's "crazy" proposals: This evening, the Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal will stage and air another Republican debate.
The last debate was staged by CNBC. The debate took place on October 28. Halloween was three days away, and that seemed weirdly appropriate!
Monsters and giants stood on the stage, confronting three to six moderators. We refer to the GOP budget proposals, which Candidate Kasich had assailed as "crazy" just one day before.
What made those budget proposals seem monstrous, ghostly, gigantic or "crazy?" Let's offer a quick review:
On September 28, the front-running candidate, Candidate Trump, had released his budget proposal. In his October 2 column, Paul Krugman surveyed the damage.
According to Krugman, Trump's proposal would "lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit. This is in contrast to Jeb Bush's plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio's plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit."
According to Krugman, "it looks as if Trump's plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb's. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America's rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth."
"[W]hy sweat the details?" Krugman wrote next. "It's all voodoo," he said.
On October 28, that voodoo stood on that debate stage, along with those giant tax cuts. Five days earlier, Krugman had again described the tax cut proposals, which carried a Halloween flair.
On Halloween, homeowners give free candy to kids! In his review of those tax proposals, Krugman saw similar conduct at work:
"All of the candidates are proposing to hand out 'free stuff'—unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy—on a truly impressive scale," he wrote. "The average budget cost is $6 trillion over the next decade; as it happens, Marco Rubio, who seems to be the most likely survivor of the demolition derby, comes in slightly above that average, at $6.5 trillion."
Question: Is $6 trillion in tax cuts over ten years a lot or just a little? Absent explanations from experts, most citizens have no real way of knowing.
We'll only say this. By way of contrast, Candidate Bush proposed either $1.3 trillion or $1.6 trillion in tax cuts over ten years back in Campaign 2000. And he did that at a time of large surplus projections.
(In November 2000, the CBO and the OMB were projecting $4.6 trillion in federal surpluses over the next ten years.)
Even adjusting for inflation, these tax cut proposals are much larger than Bush's tax cuts, even though Krugman slightly misstated the size of Rubio's proposal. And these proposals are being made at a time of projected deficits.
At any rate, Krugman linked to a post by Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center. Gleckman had presented the numbers shown below. These numbers are based on assessments by the Tax Foundation, a business-friendly, conservative-leaning organization.
Below, you see the general state of play at that pre-Halloween debate. This remains the state of play at this evening's battle:
GLECKMAN (10/20/15): The numbers are eye-popping. The six GOP candidates whose plans have been analyzed by the Tax Foundation have proposed an average of $6.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade. Here is the foundation’s list and the size of the proposed tax cuts (before considering effects on economic growth): Rand Paul: nearly $3 trillion; Rick Santorum: $3.2 trillion; Jeb Bush: $3.7 trillion; Marco Rubio: $6.1 trillion; Bobby Jindal $11.3 trillion; Donald Trump: almost $12 trillion...Among the currently plausible candidates, Trump's tax cuts are especially giant. Candidate Carson still hasn't presented a plan which is detailed enough to be assessed in this way, but his general presentation suggests that he would massively shift the burden of federal taxation away from the top ten percent and onto the lower half of earners.
These promises are almost always accompanied by pledges to balance the budget. How will the candidates make the math work? They don’t ever say. While pols gleefully describe their tax cuts in great detail, most go silent when it comes to exactly how they’d pay for it all. Rarely do they get beyond gauzy promises to cut waste or close tax “loopholes."
For context, to pay for Trump’s tax cuts without adding to the $18 trillion national debt, Congress would need to slash planned spending by one-quarter over the next decade...This wouldn’t reduce the current debt by a dime. It would just pay for his proposed tax cuts.
In that pre-Halloween debate, at least two giants stood on the stage; we refer to the tax cuts proposed by Rubio and Trump. Shape-shifting witches were on the stage too. We refer to the ways these leading contenders had been evading questions about the way they would balance the budget while cutting taxes in such remarkable ways.
Several proposals were dressed as clowns; we refer to the historically ludicrous growth rates the hopefuls said their plans would produce (see Krugman's original column). Apparitions were on the stage as well. We refer to the giant federal spending cuts which seemed to disappear whenever candidates were asked to name them, which wasn't especially often.
The scene was set for that pre-Halloween debate—a debate which was staged by CNBC, a business/economics channel.
Those budget proposals were "crazy," Candidate Kasich had said. He referred to the tax cuts, which were giant; to the spending cuts, which were invisible; to the projected growth rates, which were clownish; and to the loopholes the candidates said they would dump, which kept disappearing under questioning in a type of voodoo.
Kasich might have referred to the distributional effects of these tax plans too, in which millionaires and billionaires would see their tax bills massively slashed. In that respect, the candidates who stood on that stage were dressed as Robin Hoods, though in reverse.
We've now described the situation which obtained at that pre-Halloween debate. You'd think three moderators from a business/economics channel would have a million questions to ask about a group of budget plans which seemed as "monstrous" as these did.
In theory, the task those moderators faced had been made much simpler by Kasich. The proposals are "crazy," the Ohio governor and presidential contender had said. In theory, this relieved the moderators of the task of supplying rhetoric appropriate to the situation.
You'd think those moderators would have had a million questions about those "crazy" tax plans! You'd think they would have asked the candidates a million questions about the ghosts and goblins which seemed to inhabit their proposals—about the size of the cuts; about the size of those projected growth rates; about the disappearing act their budget and loophole cuts kept playing.
In fact, nothing even dimly like that occurred at the CNBC debate. At the start of the evening, the channel's TV stars devoted exactly three prepared questions to the "crazy" tax proposals—and at that point, they wandered off into the woods.
They spent the remainder of the two hours asking an array of scattershot, grab-bag questions about every conceivable topic. They displayed an enormous amount of snark, a tiny amount of focus.
Tomorrow, we'll run through the sequence of questions the moderators asked. Tonight, you'll be able to see if the Fox Business News stars are able to focus more sharply.
For today, we'll only say this. The "crazy" proposals which went unchallenged would produce a massive increase in wealth for the nation's billionaires.
When overpaid stars from a corporate news org can't seem to focus on such matters, a cynic may think their conduct may have the look of an old demon, plutocrat bias.
It's hard to say that perception is wrong concerning that famous old being, which prefers to hide in shadows and snark and go through life unnoticed.
Tomorrow: Minute by minute with Harwood, Quintanilla and Quick