Fiscal Issues Likely To Be Key In Republican Primary Debate

Considering recent developments, fiscal policy is likely to be the number one topic at tonight's debate in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, hosted at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa just days before the much-ballyhooed Ames Straw Poll this Saturday. The S&P credit rating downgrade brought heavy criticism from candidates Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman, but you can be sure that the debate will be filled with questions about how they would get us on the path back to AAA (at least with S&P).

As candidates debate tonight, and as they form their policy agendas in the coming weeks, we hope they look to be specific on fiscal issues. Candidates should offer concrete ideas for the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- the special joint committee created under the debt limit deal that is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in 10-year savings by the end of November. President Obama has said he will present his own ideas to the committee for how they can reach their savings target, and the Republican presidential candidates should look to do the same, offering detailed plans and policies that can help set our nation on a sound fiscal path. Generalities about cutting spending or platitudes about rolling back the size of government will not suffice.

Candidates should also explain how they intend to pay for any jobs creation programs, tax cuts, or other deficit-increasing proposals included in their policy agendas. We cannot afford to be digging ourselves a deeper hole.

Here are some of the key questions we think candidates should be ready to answer:

  • How would you recommend the special joint committee reach its goal of $1.5 trillion in savings?
  • How would you craft a plan to reach at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction in order to stabilize the debt and put our country on a stronger financial footing?
  • What are your priorities for the nation and how do you plan to pay for them?
  • How would you address unsustainable cost growth in Medicare and Medicaid?
  • How would you look to fix Social Security's financing gap?
  • What is your plan for the extension or expiration of the 2001/2003/2010 tax cuts, and how would you go about comprehensive tax reform?
  • How would you meet and build upon the savings enacted in the recently passed discretionary caps?
  • How would you reform the budget process to better promote effective and responsible budgeting?

Make sure to tune in tonight and keep an ear out for what the candidates are saying about their plans for fiscal policy. We know that it is not necessarily easy to lay out specific deficit reduction policies in the context of a political debate, but considering the events of the past few weeks and the events still to come later in the year, we expect more than general statements and cliches.

photo / Flikr user Gade Skidmore