Election 2012

Some Follow-Up Questions for Mitt and Barack on Education Spending, Immigration, Marriage Equality, & Old-Age Entitlements


Here are three follow-up questions I would have loved to see get asked in last night's debate.

1. Obama touted his "Race to the Top" initiative that he says was really helping kids learn. He also pushed for even more teachers to be hired, despite the fact that the number of teachers per student in K-12 public schools is at an all-time high. Mitt Romney signed on with the notion that we need yet more teachers, but said the decision should be made at the state level. When asked about federal support for education, Romney said he wouldn't "cut education."

Since 1970, real expenditures per pupil in the nation's classroom have more than doubled; indeed, when you add in a truer accounting of costs that includes teacher benefits, school construction, and the like, expenditures have basically tripled (see chart below). Yet over that same time frame, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the so-called Nation's Report Card—shows exactly zero improvement in test scores among high school seniors.

The question: The federal Department of Education was created in 1980. Given the chart below, how can you justify the existence of the Department of Education and the $77 billion it spent on K-12 education in 2010? Is the only argument that performance would have been even worse absent large and growing amounts of federal dollars?

2. Here's a short video about a lesbian couple that lives in Los Angeles and runs a school for trapeze artists. The woman on the right is an American citizen who not only attended a military academy but served her country in uniform. The woman on the left owns the school and is a Canadian immigrant who works on a O1 visa granted "to aliens of extraordinary ability." She employs about 16 people but has not been able to score permanent residency or a path to citizenship. That means she regularly has to spend thousands of dollars and leave the country to comply with immigration law. She says in the video that she could marry a man—a prisoner even!—who is a U.S. citizen and get put on the fast track to a green card and citizenship.

Neither of you actively supports marriage equality at the federal level (though President Obama did acknowledge over the summer that he no longer personally believes it to be wrong), so she can't marry her partner of choice. Both of you have negative positions toward immigrants. Mitt Romney has called for "self-deportations" and increasing border security as a way of keeping immigrants out of the country. Barack Obama has deported record numbers of immigrants.

The question: Pretend these women are in front of you. How do you justify keeping them from marrying? How do justify immigration laws that make it more difficult for hard-working foreigners to come to the United States and create precisely the sort of small businessess that you both profess to love?

3. In last night's debate, President Obama asserted that Social Security was "structurally sound" and that Medicare was part of a trans-generational compact that Republicans would destroy via "premium support" and "vouchers." For his part, Mitt Romney responded that nobody anywhere near the age of retirement would need worry about changes to Social Security or Medicare, a program to which he is fully devoted to maintaining (indeed, one of the main Republican lines of attack on Obamacare was that it was paid for in part by "gutting" Medicare).

In reality, Medicare and Social Security present massive fiscal problems for the government's balance sheet. Those two entitlements accounted for 37 percent of all federal outlays in 2011. Absent significant changes to these programs (of the sort that are always waved away as politically impossible), that figure will grow to 44 percent of federal spending in 2020 and 50 percent in 2030. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security is already paying out more annually in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes and all of its trust funds will be spent by 2033 at current levels of taxes and benefits. By design, Medicare's payroll taxes were never designed to cover the full cost of the plan's benefits and currently account for about one-third of expenses. At current tax rates and benefit levels, its primary trust fund will be broke by 2024.

Beyond such pressing balance-sheet issues is one of fairness. Average wage-earners who retired in 2010 or later can expect to take less money out of Social Security than they paid into it (the amount paid in includes both the employee's and employer's payroll tax shares). For instance, a single man earning the average wage over his career who retired in 2010 would have paid in $300,000 in Social Security tax and can expect to receive just $266,000 in benefits. For women, the case is slightly better because they tend to live longer. But they too are still rooked and that imbalance will only grow with time. When it comes to Medicare, every beneficiary gets far more than they pay into the system, a structural problem that underscores its unsustainability (more evidence: Medicare costs per enrollee are expected to double over the next 30 years even as the number of enrollees will also double).

The question: How do you propose to fix Social Security and Medicare so that they neither bankrupt the country over the next generation nor suck up ever-higher levels of money from younger workers who will almost certainly never see any benefits from either plan? Would you even consider the possibility of ending old-age entitlements and replacing them instead with a safety-net system that helps the poorest and least-capable Americans on the basis of income and wealth rather than reaching a particular age? And if not, why should anyone under the age of 50 vote for you?

NEXT: Fact-Checking the Debate

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  1. Every school in America that receives federal aid ought to have to post that top chart in the front of every classroom as a condition of receiving federal aid. Lets start to reverse some of the brain washing.

    1. Scores were better before the Department of Education was established. Holy fucking shit.

      Are people really this clueless? 77 billion dollars for literally nothing?


      1. When I was in college back in the late 80s, I had an economics and public policy class. One of the sections dealt with education. There had been literally hundreds of studies done about the effect of spending on educational achievement. And to that time every single one of them had failed to find any statistically significant correlation between the two. Actually a couple had found a negative correlation.

        Here we are 20 years later and it is still universally accepted that spending more money is the way to improve education. Yeah pounding your head against the wall is an appropriate response or metaphor.

      2. Well for science. It is an amusing line though. Oh crap, science is not getting better…fuck it, let’s not test it anymore.

      3. And that is $77 billion for one year. The total cost of all of the years of spending is even more staggering. And not a single change in achievement.

        1. But John, how are kids ever going to learn anything unless we give them a new laptop every year and a teacher to use it for them?

          1. How about just sending them to this post from The Oatmeal. If they can’t read and comprehend it, they will stay in school until they can.

      4. One thing at which American schools evidently excel is teaching students to believe what they are told.

  2. “Here’s a short video about a lesbian couple that lives in Los Angeles and runs a school for trapeze artists. ”

    I don’t know about the rest of you but that video was a big disappointment.

    1. At least it was “safe for the office”.

      1. That is NO consolation at all.

    2. You should see the one about the lesbian couple who runs the school for contortionists.

  3. 1) Why do you hate the children?

    2) Circus acrobatics are sooooo gay.

    3) Why do you hate old people?


  4. “If a foreign nation had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.” Glenn Seaborg (allegedly) Whole lot of jobs propped up by the Dept. of Ed., though. Scrap the Dept. of Ed., and kick it back to state level. If institutional racism is a problem, let the plaintiffs file in federal court for federal oversight of their individual school system, a la Texas v. Ruiz.

    My solution to Problem #3 is to reclassify SSI/Medicare/Medicaid as welfare for the elderly, and as such, treat it as a general expenditure. That means, means-testing it (maybe to double the income limits for what’s left of AFDC), remove the income caps from Social Security contributions—treat it as income tax, and severely cut the SSA to the size necessary to verify welfare requirements. Cancel the bonds owed to SS from the Feds—it’s just money owed to itself at this point. [Cont.]

  5. Give vouchers, or just a check, to the qualifying elderly, let them pay for the medical care they need, and scrap the entire bloated federal Medicare/Medicaid apparatus. The fraud, the billing, the provider guidelines: scrap the whole fucking mess and the millions of people and billions of dollars spent administrating it. I’m sure people in the system, like Dean, can make my hamfisted cuts more precise, and suggest other things in medical administration that need to go. See what those changes do to the balance sheet going forward.

    None of this will happen, of course. Willingly.

  6. Yo! Nick! What’s up with the lack of alt-texts lately?

    Did you hang up The Jacket or something?

  7. How do justify immigration laws that make it more difficult for hard-working foreigners to come to the United States and create precisely the sort of small businessess that you both profess to love?

    They’re takin’ our JOBZ!

    1. Arpaio types and unionistas will all be yelling just that. Let’s try to ignore the dumbasses.

  8. Romney’s answer to the education question last night wasn’t too bad. He didn’t play the “more teachers are always better” tune. I wish he was stronger about letting the states and districts decide everything, not just hiring teachers.

    1. It’s sad that explicitly stating “I don’t want to cut education funding” is considered not bad by today’s standards

      1. +1,000,000.

      2. I agree. I hope (but don’t expect) a conservative Congress would cut or eliminate education spending. And Romney would shrug and sign off because it isn’t an issue he cares about.

        I doubt he cares either much way on the immigrant lesbian, either.

        As for entitlements, no way would he answer that question with specifics. Remember when Bush tried to get specific on that issue?

  9. I see that the True the Vote people have positively identified a handful of people who voted twice in the last election (double registration in two states), and are working on hundreds more. I’d love to see this question:

    “President Obama, the Justice Department recently recieved a referral that contains strong evidence that some voters cast multiple votes in the 2008 election, which is a federal felony. Will you be directing your Attorney General to pursue these voter fraud cases as a high priority? If not, why not?”

    The meltdown would be epic.

    1. Cue the Obama DoJ not giving a single fuck.

      1. Oh, of course not. But what’s Obama gonna say? “Screw that, I don’t care about voter fraud”? Or something that, on the whole, is going to piss off his hardcore supporters who hate hate hate any kind of vote fraud enforcement?

        1. He’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist.

          And if he’s asked about it at a press conference, he’ll immediately switch subjects and describe how Michelle’s yearning for her homeworld, Kashyyyk, has proven a substantial impediment to their relationship.

  10. Why is government involved in education at all? Why?

    1. Because otherwise, children would be too stupid to follow you into your rape-van, ProGlib. We will pay any price, bear any burden, to cockblock you.

      1. Y’know, I’m starting to think there’s no such thing as “free” candy…

    2. Because the papists will educate their kids in parochial school and we know that they’re un-American. Don’t get me started on the madrassas

      1. Actually, the Papists have long been willing to educate anybody’s children in their parochial schools.

        1. True but when public schools were becoming the requirement say around the 1850’s no one who wasn’t Catholic would send their child to a Catholic school. My point is that the rise of public schools in this country were in part motivated by bigotry and fear that the new immigrants would not assimilate.

        2. I’m paying them to educate my Protestant kid. They seem to be doing a good job.

  11. If not, why not?

    They have bigger fish to fry.

  12. Why is government involved in education at all? Why?

    One could ask the same about many things:


    home ownership

    space exploration


    1. Sports.

  13. fear that the new immigrants would not assimilate.

    Not much of an issue, these days. We seem to be actively trying to prevent immigrants from assimilating.

    1. Isn’t that the whole point of “multi-culturalism”?

    2. If they assimilate they might not be as reliable as a permanent democrat constituency. They might start getting crazy ideas in their heads about “freedom” and keeping more of “their” money, etc.

  14. I actually know a woman who left the country so that she could be with her girlfriend/wife.

    Given America’s fucked up immigration system, there was basically no way for her girlfriend to come to the US, so she had the choice between a perpetual long-distance relationship with no end in sight, ever, and leaving the country.

    She left.

  15. Mr. President, you stated you would not enforce federal laws regarding marijuana when medical marijuana complied with state law, yet your DOJ has perpetrated as many raids if not more than your predecessor on such establishment and therefore on their patients seeking treatment for a number of ailments. Did you lie solely to get votes from the large number of Americans that support medical marijuana? Are you counting on those blue state folks to vote your way even if you prove time and again you don’t really care for them?

    Governor, you’re advocating for states to take control over education back from the federal government and you’ve certainly demonstrated that states should implement health care/health insurance schemes instead of a federal plan such as Obamacare. In that same vein, do you think medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law should be left alone from federal persecution? If not, is it because you abhor personal choices in medical care?

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