Give us PowerPoints, not talking points.

Photographer: RJ Sangosti/Bloomberg

Give Candidates a Take-Home Test

Paula Dwyer writes editorials on economics, finance and politics for Bloomberg View. She was London bureau chief for Businessweek and Washington economics editor for the New York Times, and is a co-author of “Take on the Street: How to Fight for Your Financial Future.”
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If the Republicans are right that televised debates have turned into cage matches and that moderators betray a liberal bias, there's a solution. Before next Tuesday's debate hosted by Fox Business News, how about letting the candidates see the questions in advance? 

If the candidates, moderators, viewers and voters all want substance, then give the candidates time to think about their answers beforehand. 

The condition is that candidates must answer the question being asked, not the question they want to answer. They also have to provide data and peer-reviewed research to show how their numbers add up, what effect their tax plans will have on the deficit, how they'd "save" Social Security, and so on. 

Sure, the Republican debate on CNBC two weeks ago was a bit of a mess. But as Brian Steel, CNBC's senior vice president for public relations, said afterward, "People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions." Here are some examples:

Donald Trump: You say Social Security and Medicare wouldn't need to be cut if the economy grows faster. You would accomplish that by decreasing government costs and bringing jobs back from China, Japan and Mexico. Specifically, what programs and numbers would you cut? And if you impose tariffs on imports as a way to bring jobs back, how would you respond if China, Japan and Mexico retaliate with similar tariffs, costing U.S. jobs that depend on exports?

Ben Carson: Should the pharmaceutical industry have the right to raise the price of a drug from $13.50 a pill to $750, as has happened recently? Should Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration pay whatever the drug company says the market price is? Drugmakers claim they must charge high prices to support research, but some companies charging $1,000 a pill spend just 3 percent of their sales on R&D. 

Marco Rubio: You have a plan that the Tax Foundation, a group that supports tax cuts, says would lose $2.4 trillion in revenue over a decade, and that's assuming tax cuts spur faster growth. Your proposal would add from $240 billion to $600 billion each year to the deficit. Which programs would you cut and how much savings would that create to offset the gap? 

You said the moderator in the previous debate misunderstood percentages when he said your tax overhaul would give the top 1 percent nearly twice as much of a gain as middle-income people would get. But even conservative commentators say he got it right: The 1 percent would see a 27.9 percent increase in after-tax income, while those in the 30 percent to 70 percent brackets on average would get 15.8 percent. Was that your intention? 

Ted Cruz: You say your 10 percent flat tax plan is so simple it would be possible to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. Yet your plan allows deductions of mortgage interest and charitable contributions. Corporations could deduct employee health insurance and pension costs. Even if Congress shifts the IRS's duties to another part of the U.S. Treasury Department, isn't that the same thing as the IRS but under a new name? If taxpayers think their returns aren't being checked, what's to stop them from underreporting income? How would eliminating the IRS, which collects $6 for every $1 spent on enforcement, add to the deficit? 

Jeb Bush: Since World War II ended, the economy has grown faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. Academic studies and books show it has grown an average of 2.54 percent under Republicans, versus 4.35 percent under Democrats. 

How will you do things differently, to break that Republican record, and produce 4 percent growth? If you say tax cuts will make the economy grow faster, why has it grown faster when taxes have gone up, such as in 1993 under Bill Clinton, and even under Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes on payrolls, gasoline and estates? 

Chris Christie: You say the government has spent all the money that people have paid into Social Security, leaving behind IOUs. But isn't the U.S. government doing what your bank does when you deposit money into a savings account -- lend it out and promise to pay it back, backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S.? Why is it stealing when the government does the same thing with people's Social Security funds?

John Kasich: Republicans say social-welfare programs give away too much "free stuff" to the disadvantaged. How is that different from government transfers to other Americans, through tax breaks for mortgage interest, for example, or contributions to the symphony? 

Rand Paul: You say we don't know enough about the Federal Reserve's liabilities, which grew to $4 trillion from $1 trillion, almost double the U.K.'s national debt, during the financial crisis. Yet as a percent of GDP, the Fed's balance sheet is smaller than those of the U.K., Japan and the entire euro zone. Why is the U.S. uniquely vulnerable?

Also, you refer to the existing audits of the Fed as too "narrow," yet the accounting firm, Deloitte & Touche, looks at the Fed the same as it does any bank. For example, you want the auditor to value the Fed's securities at current market value, versus what it paid for those securities. But no bank is required to place a market value on its securities so long as they are being held to maturity, as the Fed's plans call for. Aren't you asking to expand what traditional audits do, as a way to allow lawmakers to have more political control of the central bank?

Carly Fiorina: You say that government causes the small and the powerless to go out of business, such as the 1,590 community banks that have disappeared because of regulatory burdens. But studies don't blame government regulation so much as the fact that the U.S., before the crisis, had too many banks, with more than 7,000 institutions. There are about 5,400 today, and most of the closures were due to the move to online banking and slower economic growth in rural areas where many small banks operate. What specifically in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law has caused the loss of community banks?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Paula Dwyer at pdwyer11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net