Presidential Debate

5 Substantive Policy Questions to Ask the GOP Candidates at Tonight's Presidential Debate

Tonight's debate is also the first to come in the wake of widespread dissatisfaction from the campaigns about the ways the debates have been handled.

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Fox Business

Tonight's GOP presidential debate will be different in a number of ways: For the first time since the contests began in August, Donald Trump isn't clearly in the lead; neurosurgeon Ben Carson has essentially pulled even with Trump over the last few weeks. The primetime debate 9 p.m. will feature just eight candidates instead of the usual 10; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have been moved to the four-person undercard debate at 7 p.m. (As always, check in here as the staff of Reason will be livetweeting both events.)

Tonight's debate is also the first to come in the wake of widespread dissatisfaction from the campaigns about the ways the debates have been handled—in particular, the way that CNBC handled a debate about jobs and the economy that quickly turned into a chaotic free-for-all pitting the candidates against the moderators. 

Fox Business Network, which is hosting tonight's event, has promised that tonight will be different, running ads declaring that "CNBC never asked the real questions, never covered real issues." The candidates themselves have insisted they want more substantive questions.

I generally think the folks at FBN do a good job, but given the ongoing rhetorical slugfest between Trump and Carson, neither of whom are exactly policy wonks, and the brutal Florida Mano a mano between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who once again has oddly telegraphed his intentions to attack Rubio, it may be hard to keep the candidates on track, regardless of the questions asked.  

But there's always hope. With that in mind, here are five substantive policy questions that various candidates should answer at tonight's debate:

CNBC

1) Ben Carson, at times you've said that you want to abolish Medicare and replace it with some sort of system of private accounts. At other times, you've suggested you want to make Medicare voluntary. It's one thing to say Medicare is unsustainable in its current form. But the details of the plan you say you support aren't at all clear to anyone who knows how the program works. Can you explain what it is you support, and what exactly it will mean for individual Americans today and a decade from now? In addition, how would you overcome political opposition to even slight changes to Medicare; please do not say that people will love it when they understand it—try to explain it to them now. 

2) Donald Trump, you've criticized Ben Carson for pushing, in your words, to "get rid of Medicare." You say that would be a "horrible" idea, and that Medicare works fine; the only real problem with the program is getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse. Waste, fraud and abuse are huge problems for Medicare—accounting for about 10 percent of the program's expenditures in many years. But administrations on both sides of the aisle attempted to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in the program for years. They've tried criminal task forces and computer monitoring of charges, increased oversight of doctors, and more. These programs have had limited success at best, and tend to be unpopular when they clamp down on doctors' activities in the name of cost oversight. Please specifically describe your plan to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare without saying that you would make deals with medical providers or put the best experts together in a room. Remember, the best experts on both sides of the aisle have been trying to solve this problem for years. So how would you go about it?

3) Ted Cruz, you have proposed a major tax reform that replaces the current graduated income tax with a flat 10 percent tax on business incomes, plus a 16 percent business transfer tax. Isn't your business tax essentially just a European style Value Added Tax—a VAT? Why does America need a VAT? And what about the deficit effects? Your plan would raise the deficit by $3.6 trillion under a traditional static economic model, and even under the rosiest assumptions of economic growth and dynamic scoring, your plan would still blow up the deficit by about $768 billion, according to the Tax Foundation. If you care about reducing debt and deficits, why are you proposing a tax reform that would make them worse?

4) Jeb Bush, one of the key ideas of your campaign is that America should achieve 4 percent annual economic growth. That's an incredibly ambitious goal—most experts would call it completely unrealistic, and there's little basis for it in history. It doesn't seem to have any basis in policy or economic reality, or even any particular plans. According to reports, the number came from a casual remark you made during a conference call. Why should anyone believe you when you say that the country's economy would grow that fast in a Jeb Bush administration? And isn't the fantasy of difficult-to-achieve economic growth just a convenient way to say you'd cut taxes without also raising the deficit or cutting spending?

5) Marco Rubio, you have sketched out a plan you say would repeal and replace Obamacare. Like Obamacare, however, your plan relies on a system of federal tax credits that help offset the price of health insurance for many Americans. Other critics of the law, including at least one of your rival presidential candidates, have labeled this plan "Obamacare lite," and warned that it would lead to many of the same problems as Obamacare, with the tax credit essentially recreating the individual mandate, and allowing the federal government to continue control over the market for health insurance and individual coverage decisions. Why go through the trouble of repealing Obamacare if you're going to replace it with a system that relies on many of the same features?

Bonus questions:

NEXT: Belief in a Sky God Does Not Qualify Ted Cruz to Hold the Office of President

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  1. Ben Carson: Can your campaign rise above you being a crazy liar?

    Donald Trump: How can women vote for you when you’ve verbally assaulted so many of them?

    Ted Cruz: If Donald Trump is chosen to represent your party in the presidential elections, would you support his right to deport you?

    Jeb Bush: Why are you even bothering?

    Marco Rubio: You seem too well coached on foreign affairs, so let’s talk about unpaid tickets.

    1. Yeah, policy questions at debates are a little much to ask for.why educate when they can titilate.

    2. One question:
      Free market capitalism as a base definition rewards the winners with profits and the losers go out of business. With the understanding that FREE MARKET capitalism does not avail you to assistance, protection, and/or favoritism, via law bending politicians or ultimate theft from tax payers, what is your position on bailouts, eminent domain, farm/oil subsidies, alt. energy subsidies, and the im-export bank?

      The question that will never be asked in the history of American politics.

      1. Come on now… That question has and will be asked, but it ain’t never gonna be answered.

  2. Ooh Ohh Mr. Kotter! Can I ask a question? About Syria? Yes? Yesterday Near Washiya, one strike destroyed an ISIL supply cache and damaged an ISIL cave. Can the candidates tell us how they would be tougher on caves than Obama?

  3. Why won’t Carly Fiorina publish a tax plan we can mischaracterize and ridicule?

    – Chuck Todd

  4. In 30 seconds or less, please tell us what you believe Egypt’s pyramids were originally used for.

    They were used as a job stimulus program. Yeah, that useless.

    So, next question?

  5. To any candidate:

    Why did the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 fail to produce job gains for that decade?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..01196.html

    1. Because he didn’t cut enough.

      I figured that answer works for “why didn’t the stimulus do jack shit”. Why not throw it out there, right?

    2. It’s really too bad that Bush II continued with Billy’s CRA push. Hey, at least Barry has managed to get our LabFor back to its 1978 value. Managed decline, baby, managed decline.

    3. Because there is no evidence that the cuts actually reduced government revenue and so therefore there was very little to no extra private sector money to be used for job growth.

  6. Please specifically describe your plan to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare

    “I’m an excellent negotiator.”

  7. To any candidate:

    The three largest federal expenditures are SS, Medicare, and defense. How much would you cut of each?

    1. Simple. They would talk about reducing the increase in SS and Medicare spending, Democrats would say they hate poor people and want people to die, then they will propose adding another Billion to Defense.

  8. Of course the real questions from Neil Cavuto will be something like “Tough question – which do you love more? America or Ronald Reagan?”

    1. Trick question – Ronald Reagan IS America!

    2. This is like asking whether I love Jesus or God more. Loving one with all my heart is sine qua non for loving both with all my heart.

  9. They should play one of those word association games.

  10. The problem with killing nanuny Hilter is that in the alternative reality the Nazis might win the war.

    1. Imagine if the Generals actually got to wage war their way.

    2. Well, that really depends on which time-travel rules we are using in this hypothetical. If we’re using Back to the Future rules, that’s a distinct possibility. Under the Marvel Multi-verse rules, you would merely create a splinter timeline, one of billions possible, but you wouldn’t affect our reality. Under the anti-paradox rules, such as in Lost, it’s impossible to kill baby Hitler at all because baby Hitler wasn’t killed.

      1. Send STEVE SMITH back with the promise of baby Hitler meat. SMITH has already survived many paradoxes.

        1. YOU’RE A GREAT AMERICAN, SUGARFREE!!

      2. And if you follow the Jesuits, it doesn’t make any fucking difference, since all possible choices are in fact made and all possible outcomes actually come out. So if it is possible to chuse to kill little Baby Hitler or not to kill him, then both choices will be made, and all possible outcomes will occur. It’s just that we suffer from a sort of surreal myopia which prevents us from directly perceiving the totality.

  11. I’m actually a fan of a value added tax as long as all other taxes are eliminated. My thinking on that is that with a value added tax it won’t matter if you here legal or not since when you purchase anything you will be paying taxes. All tax plans will still require there to be an IRS and we would still need to keep business owners from paying under the table, that is nothing new. The other problem with the value added tax is that there may be a big black market for goods not traced to avoid paying those taxes. Every solution has problems that may not make it a better system. My other choice is a straight income tax only and zero deductions except for medical.

    1. I’m a big fan of a national sales tax as long as all other taxes are eliminated. I’m also a big fan of flying unicorns sprinkling magic fairy dust to bring us all wealth and health and charming good looks as long as all other taxes are eliminated. Guess which part of the equation is the sticking point?

    2. as long as all other taxes are eliminated

      That would last maybe two years. First chance Congress got, everything would be back.

  12. The problem with issues campaigns is that you never really know what the issues are going to be. Quick, in 2000 what was Bush’s stance on hijackers flying planes into buildings and major hurricanes hitting major cities and what was Gore’s? Why did none of the jackanapes in the press bring up those important issues? Sure, asking candidates questions about how they would deal with the issues we have now gives you some sense of how they might deal with whatever issues might pop up later (assuming you actually believe that what they say they plan to do has any bearing whatsoever on what they really are going to do), but it’s really just deciding which of these evil bastards you trust most to be the least evil or most incompetent at their evil bastardry.

  13. Questions for all candidates:
    1: would you kill baby Bill Cosby?
    2: how would you have responded if you were the Mizzou president and chancellor?
    3: what former President would you most like to get into fisticuffs with?
    4: Who is your favorite South Park character, and why?
    5: what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Santorum”?

    Top that, Suderman.

    1. 1) WHERE MY COUNTRY GONE?
      2) Mary Ann or Ginger (that goes for the chick, too)
      3) If you were driving your car at the speed of light and turned on your headlights, would anything happen?
      4) If someone asked you, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” would you just leave, or would you smack them upside the head and THEN leave?
      5) What’s the difference between a grape?

      1. I thought those were supposed to be answers at first (hmm, Almanian’s hitting the booze early)

        1. ….or got into AC’s stash

    2. 5: what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Santorum”?

      Metallica

      1. Sweater vest.

    3. 1. No. I’d wait until he was old enough to defend himself
      2. Eliminate the football program and journalism school. Give the saved funds to reducing alumni student loan debt.
      3. Lincoln. I figure if I could take him, Andy Jackson would be no problem.
      4. Towelly, because he’s the worst character ever.
      5. Debates. Surely, behind the SOTU address, the biggest source of oral Santorum in America

      1. Well done. Probably a lot better than the answers we’d get.

      2. 4. Randy

        Because he speaks for me.

      3. 4. TIMMEH!

      4. Lincoln? Didn’t you see the movie about how he kicked vampire ass? That dude was badass!

    4. 1. That’s dumb. What if it turned out he was my biological father?
      2. Same as I would have for anything else that came across my desk there: TOGA PARTY
      3. Al Gore
      4. Answered above
      5. My mind goes numb by the second syllable

  14. Leave out the preamble to the questions, you said this, you said that…

    Ben Carson: “Can you explain what it is (about medicare) you support, and what exactly it will mean for individual Americans today and a decade from now? In addition, how would you overcome political opposition to even slight changes to Medicare; please do not say that people will love it when they understand it?try to”

    Donald Trump: “Please specifically describe your plan to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare without saying that you would make deals with medical providers or put the best experts together in a room. Remember, the best experts on both sides of the aisle have been trying to solve this problem for years. So how would you go about it?”

    Ted Cruz: “you have proposed a major tax reform that replaces the current graduated income tax with a flat 10 percent tax on business incomes, plus a 16 percent business transfer tax.” What is the difference between that and a VAT? How would this tax plan help bring businesses back, increase employment, cause the economy to grow and help the middle class?

    The question to Bush is not a policy question and provides no info in a response to what he will do.

    Marco Rubio: “(How is) your plan (which implies a reliance) on a system of federal tax credits that help offset the price of health insurance for many Americans (different than obamacare, and how would this be better)?”

    1. Question for Jeb Bush: Why did you adopt a campaign signature of “Jeb!” instead of “BOOOSH!!!!”? Do you somehow think that playing up your connection with those other Bushes wouldn’t be prudent, wouldn’t be good campaign strategery?

  15. Republican debate?

    Well, that’s nice and all, but tonight, I plan to take a dump in the Kennedy’s house. Or whoever the equivalent of the Kennedys are in Fallout 4 (sadly, they’d never do just the Ted Kennedy, drunken reprobate side, even though that would fit into their humor. They’d probably make some JFK lookalike the Brotherhood of Steel leader who we are all supposed to cream ourselves over. Have I mentioned I don’t like the Kennedys?)

  16. Please ask this One question:
    Free market capitalism as a base definition rewards the winners with profits and the losers go out of business. With the understanding that FREE MARKET capitalism does not avail you to assistance, protection, and/or favoritism, via law bending politicians or ultimate theft from tax payers, what is your position on bailouts, eminent domain, farm/oil subsidies, alt. energy subsidies, and the im-export bank?

    The question that will never be asked in the history of American politics.

  17. Question for Ben Carson: Do you think Americans are willing to vote for an African-American for President or do you think racism is still so prevalent in our society that many people would be willing to vote for Hillary Clinton simply to avoid voting for a strong, intelligent, capable, accomplished and – dare I say, handsome – Black man such as yourself?

    1. Fuck! That made me have a flash back. I heard that in Chuck Todd’s voice.

  18. What is your philosophy on interpretation of the Constitution? What Supreme Court Justices, living or dead, best articulate your views? Name three individuals whom, if you were elected, you would consider nominating to the Supreme Court should an opening arise?

  19. You actually link to a Vox piece from Yglesias to support crticism of a 4% growth rate? You do know that in that piece he claims that Volker raised interest rates to reduce employment.

    Do better.

    1. Matthew Yglesias is a smug, self-righteous moron who is wrong about everything always.

      1. I support this brain-injured individual supporting himself by writing a regular column. I don’t give credence to any of the ideas espoused, but he’s a great example of a man overcoming what should be a career halting handicap.

        1. Funny thing is, there’s no real difference between MattY pre-injury and MattY after.

          1. MATT DAMON YGLESIAS!!!

  20. Question for Senator Cruz:

    Why do you always have that smarmy smirk on your face? Are you aware that it makes people want to punch you?

  21. I think everyone is forgetting a very important question, first proposed by Episiarch.

    All candidates should be asked, “Do you masturbate?”

    1. Yes, but I don’t ejaculate.

    2. Cruz: What, you mean like, right now?

      Moderator: Umm…well, I hadn’t, umm…

      Cruz: Yes. Yes I am.

    3. “Everyone does it. You’re a liar if you say you don’t. Yeah, i use peanut butter.”

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    http://www.OnlineJobs100.com

  23. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……

    http://www.OnlineJobs100.com

  24. Is it too much to ask that the five debate questions imagined on a purportedly Libertarian website not be identical to the types of questions that any leftist would ask?

  25. Question: what is your plan for expanding and safeguarding individual liberty?

  26. Taxes are an anachronism, a barbarous relic from the days of commodity backed money. What’s your plan for eliminating all taxes and eliminating the debt?

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