I Feel Like I’ve Heard This Before
Donald Trump has announced his tax plan, which predictably involves lower taxes for everyone (except hedge fund managers), and Hillary Clinton promises an improved economy, which predictably involves an emphasis on income inequality. Stated another way, we are about to witness yet another rehashing of traditional approaches. What we will not see, however, are the natural questions each candidate should be made to answer.
First, the Republican Party. Donald Trump is advocating $2.5 trillion in tax cuts. That means that an additional $2.5 trillion will be added to the national debt. How much will that increase interest payments on the principle?
It has long been the Republican Party anthem that the only acceptable approach to debt reduction is tax cuts. The theory is that tax cuts will ultimately result in an economy so robust that the government’s revenue will increase, thus enabling it to pay down the national debt. It’s the reality that seems to have escaped the serious, and obvious, scrutiny it deserves. I will limit my concerns to just two issues.
First, we’ve already passed tax cuts. During the presidency of George W. Bush, tax cuts were passed and made permanent, in large part. Why, then, do we need more tax cuts to improve the economy? Not only did the tax cuts not result in a depreciable increase in jobs (3 million over 8 years, compared to 23 million during the prior 8 years, according to the Wall Street Journal), but we experienced a downturn in 2008 – long after the tax cuts had been passed.
My second concern is broader. It is pivotal to understand that this entire approach to American fiscal policy requires an implicit commitment to pay back the money on the back end. In other words, if the economy grows and there is an annual surplus, you have to pay down the debt you created. But there is no evidence that any such intent exists. In 2000, when George Bush was running for president, there was a projected surplus of just over $5 trillion dollars, which happened to be roughly the size of the national debt that had been created since 1980 by cutting the amount of revenue the government received annually. For the Republican approach to be credible, there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. When the money does materialize, Republicans have to be the ones advocating for the debt to be paid. George Bush took the opposite view. His position was that if we were running an annual surplus then, darn it, Americans were paying too much in taxes. Why wasn’t the debt paid down?
In fact, the only two people in recent history to ever conspire to pay down the debt are Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton raised taxes modestly in 1993, but left the Reagan tax cuts largely intact. However, even with increased tax revenue from millions of new jobs, nobody was paying down the debt. To his everlasting credit, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich demanded payment on the debt – and got it.
The Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton is offering to alleviate income equality with “the promise of a basic bargain.” The “promise” is this: “If you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead, and when you get ahead, America gets ahead.” That is not a concrete plan, it is a thought. Unfortunately for Americans, there are no real numbers attached to her promise.
The only way to pierce this bumper sticker method of discussing our national issues is to require that those who urge the public to adopt their philosophies be required to explain not the philosophy, but the ensuing reality. Candidates and elected officials talk in terms that are philosophical and emotional, not mathematical. You and I live with the mathematical.
– Rob Kilmer
Rob Kilmer, the President of You Defend It, Inc. is a lawyer with a litigation practice in upstate New York. He hosted the “You Defend It with Rob Kilmer” radio show until 2009 and since then has produced You Defend It debates.. He worked as a guest commentator for CBS4 in Miami during the 2012 Presidential debates, and Pulitzer Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a piece on him called: “A Solution for Loud, Empty Talk”.
Mr. Kilmer’s initiative focuses on current, divisive issues, and provides members of the public with an opportunity to witness a dignified debate, the purpose of which is to identify how people’s lives will actually be affected by the outcome of the issue being debate. Towards that end, You Defend It debates are governed by two, simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the question asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to his or her opponent’s argument, party or (presumed) political philosophy. In other words, each debater is expected to show up at the debate with his or her own solution – and defend it.
You Defend It
“If you say it, prove it – because we live with the consequences.”