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10 Missing Questions from the CNN GOP Debate

June 13, 2011

Tonight in Manchester, New Hampshire, CNN will broadcast the first major debate featuring the 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Predictably, the media are hyping a clash of personalities featuring the front-runner (Romney) vs. the challenger (Pawlenty), the cult heroes (Paul, Cain), the hard line social conservatives (Bachmann, Santorum), the absent (Palin) and soon-to-be departed (Gingrich). But lost amidst the predictable Barack Obama-bashing, paeans to Ronald Reagan and odes to American exceptionalism will be any real discussion of the extremism that now passes for orthodoxy among Republicans.
Here, then, are the 10 missing questions from tonight's CNN GOP debate:
1. Do you believe that tax cuts pay for themselves?
President Bush confidently proclaimed, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase." As it turned out, not so much.
After Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt with his supply-side tax cuts, George W. Bush doubled it again with his own. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 drained $2.5 trillion from the U.S. Treasury during their first decade and, if extended, would siphon off $4 trillion more during the next. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that the Bush tax cuts accounted for almost half of the mushrooming deficits during his tenure. As another CBPP analysis forecast, over the next 10 years, the Bush tax cuts if made permanent will contribute more to the U.S. budget deficit than the Obama stimulus, the TARP program, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and revenue lost to the recession put together.
For a party newly concerned about the national debt, Republicans don't act like it. The Ryan budget backed by House and Senate Republicans includes $4.2 trillion in tax cuts; Tim Pawlenty's plan over $11 trillion.
2. The House Republican "Plan for Job Creators" calls for even more tax cuts for upper income Americans. Do you support that plan even though America created far more jobs when their tax rates were higher?
At a time of when the federal tax burden is at a 60 year low and income inequality at an 80 year high, more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who need them least seems hard to justify.
Not, that is, to House Republicans. Their "Plan for America's Job Creators" would slash the income tax rate income tax rate from 35% to 25% for the people John Boehner described as "the top one percent of wage earners in the United States...we expect to reinvest in our economy."
If so, those expectations were sadly unmet under George W. Bush. After all, the last time the top tax rate was 39.6% during the Clinton administration, the United States enjoyed rising incomes, 23 million new jobs and budget surpluses. Under Bush? The worst job creation performance since Hoover.
3. Do you agree with House Speaker John Boehner that failure to raise the debt ceiling would be a "financial disaster" for the United States?
In their few moments of candor, Republican leaders expressed agreement with Tim Geithner's assessment that default by the U.S. "would have a catastrophic economic impact that would be felt by every American." The specter of a global financial cataclysm has been described as resulting in "severe harm" (McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi), "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world" (Senator Lindsey Graham) and "you can't not raise the debt ceiling" (House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan). In January, even Speaker John Boehner acknowledged as much:

"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."

While House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, "I don't question the Secretary of the Treasury" about the August 2 drop-dead date for raising the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Sarah Palin ("Timothy Geithner's false statements") and Michele Bachmann ("blatant lies") each called Timothy Geithner a liar.
4. In 2010, Republicans campaigned on a promise to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act enabling health insurance for 32 million Americans? If you favor repeal, what specific programs would you replace it with?
House and Senate Republicans have already voted to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act and its protections against bans for pre-existing conditions, lifetime benefits caps, the Medicare donut hole and kicking young adults off their parents' insurance policies. (A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that the Ryan budget, with its repeal of the ACA and steep cuts to Medicaid would lead to 44 million fewer people having health insurance.)
But over a year after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell first announced "I think the slogan will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace,'" Republicans still have no plan to replace it with. As the Washington Post and The Hill each recently reported, "House Republicans have yet to fulfill the second part of their campaign pledge to 'repeal and replace' the legislation."
As for this year's crop of Republican White House wannabes, they'll no doubt sound a lot like the last one. Health savings accounts, association health plans, tax breaks for health insurance, selling insurance across state lines and tort reform are just some the Republican bromides George W. Bush and John McCain were pushing then and the new GOP field is pushing now.
5. Do you join the 235 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators in supporting the Ryan plan to privatize the government Medicare program even though costs for private insurers have risen much more sharply?
Even Michele Bachmann is getting cold feet, announcing a month ago that "I put an asterisk on my support" of the Ryan bill she voted for because "I'm concerned about shifting the cost burden to seniors."
As well she should be.
As Paul Krugman explained this weekend:

We don't have a Medicare problem, we have a health care cost problem. And Medicare actually does a better job of controlling costs than private insurers -- not remotely good enough, but better...
If Medicare costs had risen as fast as private insurance premiums, it would cost around 40 percent more than it does. If private insurers had done as well as Medicare at controlling costs, insurance would be a lot cheaper.

Back in March, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post made much the same point. "The private health-insurance market has exacerbated cost growth in Medicare," he corrected noted, adding, "Medicare's costs have grown more slowly than private health insurance and Medicare's premiums are about 20 percent lower than private health-care insurance." And that gap has grown even more pronounced in recent years. But you don't have to take Ezra Klein's word for it that "the GOP outsources Medicare to private insurers and gives senior citizens checks that cover less and less of the cost of insurance every year." In April, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued the same dire warning, concluding that "by 2030, the beneficiary's share would be 68 percent" of health care costs under the Ryan proposal.
6. Would you ban abortion in all cases, including rape, incest and to protect the health of the mother? What criminal penalties do you think should American women and their doctors face?
That all of the Republican candidates will call for the overturning of Roe v. Wade is no surprise. The only question is how severely they will seek to punish American women for exercising their reproductive rights and American physicians for honoring them.
In 2008, the GOP platform endorsed a "human life amendment" to the U.S. Constitution that would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. While John McCain famously used air quotes to scoff at "the health of the mother," Rick Santorum called it a "phony exception." And while Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty may be squeamish about sending women and their doctors to jail, Santorum has no such qualms:

"I believe that any doctor that performs an abortion, I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion, should be criminally charged for doing so."

7. Do you believe that global warming is, as Republican Senator James Inhofe put it, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?" If not, do you believe that climate change is the result of human action? What would you do as President to combat it?
Last fall, ThinkProgress found that nearly every GOP Senate candidate was a climate change denier. Now, not a single Republican member of the House Energy Committee will go on record as saying global warming is real.
That denialism is now orthodoxy. Three years after John McCain and Sarah Palin ran on a program supporting cap and trade legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich reversed their positions on it. And after Mitt Romney inocuously explained that "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," conservative kingmaker Rush Limbaugh pronounced Romney's hopes of nomination over.
8. Did you support President Obama's decision to triple U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan and quadruple drone strikes in Pakistan? What would your approach be now?
As Congress and some in the administration are pressing President Obama to begin drawing down the U.S. troops presence in Afghanistan, outside of Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul the GOP field has been largely silent on the issue.
9. Do you believe, as Pastor John Hagee does, that "The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West?" If not, why not?
During the 2008 presidential race Republican nominee John McCain, who previously joked about "bomb bomb Iran" and killing Iranians with cigarettes accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee. McCain later announced he "must reject his endorsement," given the "deeply offensive and indefensible" remarks Hagee had made about the Holocaust. But McCain was silent on Hagee's insistence that the United States must attack Iran to fulfill the biblical prophecy of Armageddon in Israel in which 144,000 Jews will be converted to Christianity and the rest killed.
Speaking to the 2006 conference of his organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor Hagee described his own dream of Armageddon as foreign policy:

"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West...a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."

It's entirely possible that one or more of the GOP presidential field may agree with him. Newt Gingrich, after all, courted Hagee earlier this year and is on record with his call to "replace the government" in Tehran and lamented that President Bush did not go far enough in his war against the "Axis of Evil." And while Sarah Palin believes "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead," Michele Bachmann warned that:

"I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States."

It's time for all of the Republican candidates to take the 2012 Rapture Test.
10. Would you appoint a Muslim-American to serve in your cabinet?
It's similarly time for the GOP's best and brightest to show their fidelity to the finest traditions of American religious tolerance and the U.S. Constitution.
Sadly, years before Herman Cain suggested Muslims appointees must swear a special loyalty oath to serve in his Cabinet, Mitt Romney explained they need not apply period.
In November 2007, the former Massachusetts Governor said as much to Mansoor Ijaz at a fundraiser in Las Vegas. As Ijaz recounted:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "...based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Despite Romney's subsequent denials, Greg Sargent and Steve Benen documented other witnesses and other occasions during which Mitt repeated his No Muslims Need Apply policy.
11. Do you believe God supports your candidacy?
Like Spinal Tap, this GOP debate questionnaire goes to 11. And the final question for the would-be choice of the Party of Lincoln is in essence whether they agree with Honest Abe's classic statement:

"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side."

As Perrspectives and New York magazine documented, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum have that formula reversed.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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