Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ask the Candidates
About These Issues

by Joseph Sternberg

Most of the questioners at these so-called Republican presidential primary debates are of the left. That has some advantages for the candidates since they get exposed to questions that would be raised later. But the choice of topics and the way that they are presented is skewed. For instance, the questioners seem to want to pretend that the Paul Ryan budget bill does not exist, yet it is certainly a top issue. The candidates should be questioned to determine how they would deal with the issues in it (if they differ from what has been written). That would also help voters to understand the degree to which the candidates have thought about these problems (if in fact they have). Foreign policy issues are still to be formulated, although the approach of the candidates to foreign policy is a prime aspect of being president.

1. National debt

What is the candidates' approach to this issue?

The Republican House passed the Paul Ryan Budget Bill earlier this year. This is a specific attempt to maintain US solvency and advances an approach to entitlement reform. If a candidate doesn't like this bill, what alternative would they propose? This kind of focus is necessary to keep the candidates from evading this fundamental issue.

President Barack Obama pushes the view that we can stop the rising national debt by taxing the wealthy, rather than decreasing expenditures. What are the Republican arguments against this position? This is important because President Obama is sure to trumpet this argument. My previous blog entry on the president's position was an attempt to contribute to our understanding of this issue.

2. Energy Policy

The formation of an effective energy policy for the US is prevented by the concern that fossil fuels are loading up the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. The illusion that green energy can be substituted for fossil fuels to alleviate the concern is rampant. But the priority countries such as China and India put on economic development shows that the control of carbon dioxide cannot be achieved in this way. Carbon dioxide is a worldwide problem, and fossil fuels will be needed by the world for a long time, My previous blog entry explains the scientific problem and the solution that can be pursued. Green energy should find its place in the US energy mix without massive subsidies.

The US national security demands an increase in the domestic output of fossil fuels. There are three compelling reasons for this. First, the US economy is vulnerable to disruptions in the Mideast oil supply. We spend billions on maintaining force in the area. The vulnerability seriously compromises national security policy. Second, self-sufficiency in fossil fuels would have a large positive effect on the US balance of trade and thereby help relieve the pressure on the dollar. In 2011 the trade deficit is projected to be $550 billion dollars. During the same period, the cost of oil imports is expected to reach $400 billion dollars. And finally third, thousands of US jobs would be created.

We should hear from the candidates on all this.

3. Health Care Reform

All the Republican presidential candidates seem to agree that ObamaCare must be repealed. It may be declared unconstitutional but, if that does not happen, it should be repealed because it overwhelms the health care system with bureaucrats and the government and increases the cost of health care.  Republicans, however, cannot stop there.  Health care, as it is now organized, has serious problems.  Republicans should assemble a package, perhaps including items such as tort reform and allowing the sale of medical insurance across state lines.  Among all the candidates, this should be especially asked of Romney.

4. Avoiding another financial crisis.
       a) Housing

The US has had a bipartisan policy dating back many years to have the government intervene in the market to increase home ownership. It is clear that home ownership is not for everyone. The ability of homeowners to meet the financial requirements of home ownership, including down payments, cannot be bypassed. Government guaranteeing of mortgages where lending standards were debased led to trillions of mortgage-based securities flooding the market. Well over a trillion dollars worth of these securities are now resting uneasily in the possession of the Federal reserve. Fannie and Freddie were key agents in creating this debacle and so far have cost taxpayers $170 billion dollars. To allow these organizations to continue to operate is to insure a recurrence of the housing collapse.

      b) Ending too big to fail

The financial collapse started by the housing collapse showed another serious defect of the financial system. We have to prevent financial institutions from becoming "too big to fail." This is a failure of capitalism. Now we don't seem to have any serious trouble in deciding that a company is too big to fail. The problem is preventing them from getting to that point. Financial experts need to spell out ways that this can be done. Under the present circumstances, the incentives push in the direction of massive bets. If things go well, millions are earned. If the bets turn out to be bad, the new millionaires are gone and the taxpayers are faced with the debris.  And many of the super-rich whose incomes have soared into the stratosphere are in the financial sector.  Subsidizing these salaries is absurd, yet that is precisely what we’re doing.

If we measure the presidential candidates on these issues, we’ll have a good way of determining who is the best one.  Certainly a lot better than seeing who scores more points at a “debate.”


UPDATE: About foreign policy questions that the candidates should be asked, I would start with the famous quotation from Palmerston, " Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests." So what do the candidates believe are our national interests in the Middle East, former satellites of Russia, Africa, China, etc. Such responses would help to understand how candidates would respond to developments and the degree to which they have thought about such matters.
Joseph Sternberg
Retired Professor of Physics
Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA

1 comment:

  1. You mean ask them to address the issues we all are actually facing? There's an idea whose time is always come!

    "Sarkiness" aside, one can at least get clues about character from the current set-up, so the prevailing debate formula is not entirely a waste.