Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Impressions of GOP Economics Debate

Eight Republicans gathered around a table at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for the seventh GOP presidential candidates' debate. My quick scorecard:
  • Romney won. Hands down.
  • Perry lost. No doubt.
  • Cain might have helped himself by sounding bold but hurt himself by sounding simplistic.
  • No one else distinguished himself or herself to change the dynamics of the race.

After the jump, deeper impressions.

Romney had a ready answer for all attacks. Bain Capital created tens of thousands of jobs, it didn't cut them. Romneycare is a Massachusetts state solution, popular in Massachusetts, that reduced the number of uninsured in the state, unlike Texas under Perry. Romney's 59 point plan is not as simple as Cain's 9-9-9 plan because our national problems are complicated. Romney proposes a capital gains tax cut for the middle class, not for the wealthy, because it's the middle class who are hurting the most.

Perry seemed to think every problem (Washington gridlock, loss of manufacturing jobs, trade deficit with China) can be solved by drilling for more oil and gas. If Americans suspected he had a limited, Texas-centric, provincial background before this debate, he removed all question tonight. When given a question about Solyndra that he ought to have hit out of the park, instead he found himself playing defense about the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

Cain was on message: 9-9-9. Unfortunately, his tax plan became a running joke. Huntsman had the best line, saying he thought 9-9-9 was the price of a pizza. Bachmann said turn 999 upside down - the devil is in the details. Santorum asked the New Hampshire audience who supported Cain's idea of a national sales tax. No hands were up. When Cain ventured off message, he was on shaky ground. Cain picked Alan Greenspan as the Federal Reserve chairman he most admired. Santorum was caught smiling. Paul said Greenspan was a "disaster."

Overall, the candidates all gave their standard talking points. Wall Street isn't to blame for the financial crisis, Washington is. The reason people live in poverty is because business is over-taxed and over-regulated. The stimulus didn't work. Temporary tax cuts don't work. Everything is Obama's fault. (Paul, to his credit, said Sarbanes Oxley, a Bush-era regulation, was also a disaster.)

The moderators failed to challenge the obvious holes in the answers.

How will each candidate end gridlock? Romney will do it by leading, not by compromising, certainly not by conceding that any Democratic idea might have some value. And how will this get Democratic support? Cain insisted Congress will pass his 9-9-9 plan and impose a supermajority requirement to raise taxes because his plan is "bold." Perry said he'd do it like he did in Texas, by working with Democrats. Huh? When were Democrats a serious obstacle to Republican government in Texas under Perry?

Candidates repeatedly said no to tax increases, no to defense cuts, but yes to balanced budgets. Bachmann pointed out that the budget deficit is currently 40%. Perry called for a balanced budget amendment. Yet no one, not even the moderators, pointed out the drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare that would be necessary to balance the budget without tax increases. In fact, I don't believe the words "Social Security" were mentioned even once in this debate entirely devoted to the economy.

Romney said he opposes bank bailouts but says America can't let its financial system collapse. OK, how do you do that in a crisis without bailouts? Romney didn't say. No one asked him.

Romney said he'd call out China as a currency manipulator on day one and take action, but he wouldn't risk a trade war. OK, how does that work?

Candidates vowed to repeal Obamacare, eliminate the cuts they say Obamacare made to Medicare, forbid the government from refusing to cover ineffective treatments because that would be getting between a patient and her doctor, and somehow still balance the budget without a tax increase. OK, how does that work?

Charlie Rose is a sweet guy, but Americans needed a tough interrogator, not kitchen table chit-chat from him. The moderators get the worst grade of anyone at the table.

Some statements that I expect to see the fact-checkers weigh in on:

  • Romney said Obamacare was passed through reconciliation with 51 votes.
  • Romney said his private company Bain Capital created tens of thousands of net jobs.
  • Cain said his 9-9-9 tax plan is revenue neutral.
  • Perry said Texas has the second lowest state debt per capita ratio in the nation. (How much of that is because Texas pushes debt down to the county, city and local school districts?)
  • Paul said the Federal Reserve creates the business cycle. (What were those booms and busts before the 1913 creation of the Fed?)
  • Paul said that Austrian School economists saw the housing bubble inflating and Keynesian economists didn't.
  • Bachmann said young people today will need a 75% tax rate unless spending cuts are made.
  • Bachmann said that Obama plans for Medicare to collapse and all seniors will be pushed to Obamacare.

No comments: