The Policy Proposals in the Third Republican Debate
Last week the Republican Presidential hopefuls gathered in Colorado for their third debate of the campaign season. The event was billed as policy discussion “focused on jobs and the economy.” Although viewers hoping to learn more about the candidates’ specific proposals were probably disappointed with the way evening eventually unfolded, there were issues of substance presented.
Government reform turned out to be featured theme of the night. While the candidates were surprisingly not asked how they would repeal and replace the so-called Affordable Care Act, some of them did get specific regarding reforms of longer-standing entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Other spending related topics on the table included auditing the Federal Reserve System, and reforming the scorekeeping rules used to set the federal budget.
To help taxpayers cut through the rhetoric and distractions that are so common in debates, NTU Foundation dug through the transcript to distill the candidates’ plans for the budget. We identified 23 spending-related proposals where the candidate offered policy specifics, or referred to details on their campaign websites. To the extent that details are available, we provide an estimate how much each policy could impact outlays over a five-year budget window.
- There were four statements advocating increased spending. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz each supported an audit of the Federal Reserve System ($1 million, annually), Marco Rubio advocated consolidating and expanding the Child Tax Credit, a “refundable” credit available to filers regardless of their income tax liability ($848 million, annually), and Donald Trump repeated his call to build a wall along the entire southern border ($2.5 billion, annually).
- There were seven statements specifying spending reductions. The largest discretionary savings would result from John Kasich’s plan to reduce the federal gas tax and transfer responsibility for most surface transportation to the states ($17.8 billion annual savings). The smallest savings of the night would result from Kasich’s plan to block grant education funding and reduce the Department of Education ($617 million annual savings).
- Candidates also offered entitlement savings: block granting and reducing Medicaid funding starting in 2018 (Kasich, $30 billion savings over the first three years), using chained-CPI to calculate Social Security benefits (Jeb Bush, $4.4 billion annual savings), increasing the eligibility age for Medicare (Paul, $1.3 billion annual savings), and increasing the eligibility age for Social Security for future retirees (Paul and Cruz, $740 million annual savings).
Candidates also cited 12 proposals whose net spending impact is indeterminate, some of which could potentially lead to additional entitlement savings (e.g., means-testing Social Security benefits or block granting welfare programs), and some that could lead to increased spending, such as Mike Huckabee’s plea to boost federal health research spending. The net impact is unclear regarding Carly Fiorina’s advocacy of “zero-based budgeting” to require every federal entity to post information on how it spends money, how many federal employees are involved in administering each program, and data measures to illustrate effectiveness. While the goal is to provide information to help rein in spending, this would likely increase the costs that go into preparing budgets.
A full analysis of each of the candidates’ proposals and details regarding their potential impact on spending is available here.