5 Economic Issues Where GOP Hopefuls Clash

Although they broadly agree on taxes, spending, and regulation, they differed on some key details

600 gop debate REUTERS Mario Anzuoni.jpg

Tuesday night, eight Republicans vying for the 2012 presidential nomination spared over how to fix the U.S. economy. This debate should be the most important: with unemployment stuck above 9% and many fearing a double dip, economic policy will almost certainly play a major role in which candidate Americans pick as the next president. Although many people may think that the GOP platform on this topic is fairly straightforward -- cut spending, cut regulation, and cut taxes -- the candidates actually had very different views on some key issues.

A Quick Assessment

Before getting into those five areas of disagreement, I'll offer a quick assessment of the debate, in general:

  • Mitt Romney was the clear winner. He was poised, at ease, and appeared to be the nominee that everybody else was trying to beat.
  • Herman Cain got a huge amount of talk time, but in nearly every opportunity to speak, he relied on his "9-9-9" tax plan a a crutch (no it's not a pizza deal, as Jon Huntsman quipped). At this point, voters may worry that his platform is a little too one-dimensional and almost gimicky.
  • Speaking of Huntsman, he performed pretty well. But he may just be too far to the left to energize the Republican base.
  • Then, there was Rick Perry. His performance was shockingly weak. His way to save the economy has something to do with energy -- we know that -- but he provided no detail.
  • The other candidates Rick Santorum, New Gingrich, Michele Bachman, and Ron Paul got less talk time than the others and are all looking more and more like long-shot candidates.

Taxes

The most widely discussed tax policy during the debate was Cain's 9-9-9 plan, which would throw out the current tax code and impose a flat 9% income tax, 9% sales tax, and 9% corporate tax. Other candidates weren't on board with the plan. While most favored lowering and reforming the corporate and personal tax burdens, other candidates complained that imposing a sales tax would just provide the fedreal government another way to grow larger.

One particularly interesting exchange over taxes took place between Romney and Gingrich. In the section of debate where a candidate could pose a question to another, Gingrich asked Romney whether he is on board with Obama's class warfare. He pointed to Romney's economic plan, which would lower the capital gains tax only for Americans who earn less than $200,000 per year. Romney responded saying that the rich were doing just fine and that it's the middle class who need a break.

Bailouts

Another interesting topic was bailouts. Romney was asked what he would do if faced with a situation like 2008, where the financial system was near collapse. Romney said he understood the need to keep the market alive in times of peril, so he said that he believed that the government would have to act. But he would do things differently than what was done in 2008. He would force certain firms to fail and he would not have bailed out GM and Chrysler.

Meanwhile, however, some other candidates were staunchly opposed to bailouts. Santorum explained that he opposed the rescue because it was too big an intrusion in the private sector.

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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