The Corner

Economy & Business

The State of Economy and the Explosion of the Debt Were Ignored at the Debate

As predicted, the economy had a very weak fourth quarter. Economists were predicting 0.8 percent growth but it actually came in at 0.7 percent. That means a 2.4 percent growth for 2015. It means that this recovery continues to be weak, the weakest actually. Unfortunately, this issue was not covered during the Republican debate last night. That’s a failure of the Fox News moderators. To the extent that candidates talked about the economy, it was in the context of how President Obama wants to destroy it even further.

Marco Rubio had a good line doubled with a good point:

I do not believe that we have to destroy our economy in order to protect our environment. And especially what these programs are asking us to pass that will do nothing to help the environment, but will be devastating for our economy.

In that sense, the candidates failed to outline what their program for growth would be if they got elected and to contrast their plan with how weak the recovery has been and how it has hurt working- and middle-class Americans.

Also, the absence of a sustained conversation about the debt and the rising deficits (they are growing again) but also about fundamental reforms of entitlement programs was very sad. There was one, and only one, question about repealing Obamacare (asked to Senator Ted Cruz).

CRUZ: First of all, we have seen now in six years of Obamacare that it has been a disaster. It is the biggest job-killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums skyrocket.

If I’m elected president, we will repeal every word of Obamacare.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, once that is done, everyone agrees we need health-care reform. It should follow the principles of expanding competition, empowering patients, and keeping government from getting in between us and our doctors.

Three specific reforms that reflect those principles. Number one, we should allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines. That will create a true 50-state national marketplace which will drive down the cost of low-cost, catastrophic health insurance.

Number two, we should expand health savings accounts so people can save in a tax-advantaged way for more routine healthcare needs. And number three, we should work to de-link health insurance from employment so if you lose your job, your health insurance goes with you and it is personal, portable and affordable.

And I’ll tell you, Bret, I think that’s a much more attractive vision for healthcare than the Washington-drive, top-down Obamacare that is causing so many millions of people to hurt.

I think Cruz did a good job with this question, in spite of the details and the over-estimation of the good that allowing people to buy insurance across state lines would accomplish. Following the debate, Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner talked to the senator’s communications director Rick Tyler and reports that Cruz should be giving us details about his health-care plan soon.

Cruz mentioned Obamacare once again, in passing, in his closing remarks but that was all the coverage the issue received. That’s kind of crazy considering that Hillary Clinton said that “the Affordable Care Act is one of the greatest accomplishments of President Obama, of the Democratic party, and of our country.” It is also a missed opportunity considering how the president and the Democrats have nothing to brag about on this issue.

The actual word “entitlement” came up once in a question to Governor Christie but he deflected as fast as he could to talk about defunding Planned Parenthood:

BAIER: Governor Christie, you talk a lot about entitlement reform and you say that that’s where the federal government can get savings needed to balance the budget. But can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not do at all?

CHRISTIE: Yes. You want one?

BAIER: I want one. Yes.

CHRISTIE: How about one that I’ve done in New Jersey for the last six years. That’s get rid of Planned Parenthood funding from the United States of America.

BAIER: Anything bigger than that?

CHRISTIE: Bigger than that? Let me tell you something, when you see thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can’t think of anything better than that.

No matter how one feels about the defunding Planned Parenthood issue and Christie’s answer, it was, in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

Also, apart from Governor Kasich defending his decision to extend Medicaid in Ohio, there wasn’t a conversation about or even a mention of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or the Obamacare subsidies. These programs are the drivers of our future debt and you would think that a conversation about how to address their growth among people theoretically interested in reducing the size and scope of government would have been front and center in the Republicans’ debates. And from that point of view, last night’s debate was even worse than the last one

I will conclude on a positive. I liked this line by Rubio:

That is why Hillary Clinton cannot win this election. Hillary Clinton this week said Barack Obama would make a great Supreme Court justice. The guy who systematically and habitually violates the constitution on the Supreme Court? I don’t think so. ​

And once ​again, Cruz deserves high praise for doubling down on his opposition to the ethanol mandate in Iowa:

 Well, Chris, I’m glad to discuss my views on ethanol and energy . I think God has blessed this country with enormous natural resources, and we should pursue all of the above. We should be developing oil, and gas, and coal, and nuclear, and wind, and solar, and ethanol, and biofuels. But, I don’t believe that Washington should be picking winners and losers. And, I think there should be no mandates, and no subsidies whatsoever.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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