Questions Republican Candidates Need to Answer: Ramesh Ponnuru

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- For a moment there during the ABC News debate on Jan. 7, it seemed as though moderator George Stephanopoulos was getting ready to ask the Republican candidates for their views about specific methods of contraception.

Some vestige of self-restraint on his part kept us, fortunately, from hearing Ron Paul’s view on the relative merits of intrauterine devices, condoms and natural family planning.

But we haven’t heard much, during the many Republican presidential debates this campaign, about some issues that actually are relevant to the presidency. Here are a few questions I’d like to hear the candidates address.

1. Almost all of you have pledged not to raise the debt ceiling until Congress passes a constitutional amendment to limit federal spending and make it harder to raise taxes. How would you get the requisite dozens of Democratic congressmen to support this amendment? Alternatively, how would you bring the deficit to zero immediately?

2. All of you have talked about getting illegal immigration under control. What about legal immigration? Should we devote fewer slots to reuniting extended families and more to recruiting the highly skilled?

3. Are there any additional steps that should be taken to encourage or help immigrants to assimilate successfully?

4. Absent an imminent attack on a vital national interest, does the president have the constitutional authority to launch a military action without congressional approval?

5. Governor Perry: When you announced your campaign, you said that one of the reasons you were running was that it is an injustice that nearly half of tax filers pay no income tax. So why does the tax plan you released a few weeks later do nothing to decrease that figure?

6. Many conservatives say it’s unfair that the highest-earning 1 percent of Americans pay 40 percent of federal income taxes. Do you agree? If so, what percentage should they pay?

7. Senator Santorum says declining manufacturing employment is a problem that the government should seek to reverse. Manufacturing output has been rising for decades. Do the rest of you lament that manufacturers require fewer people to produce more? And are there other sectors of the economy where the government should encourage inefficiency?

8. Rank the following in order of importance to you: that energy be cheap, clean or American-made?

9. Congressman Paul, you’ve said that the U.S. has undergone a coup and that the Central Intelligence Agency now “runs everything.” If that’s true, is there any way that the CIA will allow you to win the presidency?

10. A follow-up: How can we be sure that you, Congressman Paul, are not a CIA agent under deep cover?

11. Republicans in Washington have long favored a federal law to place limits on medical-malpractice lawsuits. Should they get their way, or should states continue to be allowed to set their own policies on these lawsuits?

12. In recent years, wages haven’t grown even when the economy has. Why do you think that is? What, if anything, should the federal government do about it?

13. It has been almost 50 years since the federal government began its K-12 education-spending programs. What have we gotten for this money?

14. Governor Romney, does the U.S. have anything positive to learn from Europe?

15. Should the federal government enact a bankruptcy code for state governments as an alternative to bailouts?

16. Is higher education now in “a bubble,” as some contend? Should federal policy continue to try to increase the number of people who get college degrees? Is there a point of diminishing returns to this policy?

17. Speaker Gingrich: You have said that the actions of Mitt Romney’s former company, the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, constituted “looting.” Should there be laws against such practices?

18. Should Congress act to reduce the discretion of the Federal Reserve in setting monetary policy, and if so, how?

19. Governor Huntsman believes we need to limit the size and borrowing ability of banks to prevent them from becoming “too big to fail.” Do the rest of you agree? If not, how would you make a credible commitment not to bail out financial companies?

20. What would you do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? What should the federal role in the housing market be?

21. When you say you want to “replace” the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, Governor Romney, what do you have in mind?

22. Governor Romney, Senator Santorum: You have pledged that Iran will not go nuclear on your watch. Does that pledge come with a money-back guarantee?

There are still several more debates scheduled. That should be plenty of time to ask questions of the would-be presidents before getting to the issue of boxers versus briefs.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist and a senior editor at National Review. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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