The first Republican presidential debate hosted by a business-themed television network presents an opportunity for debate moderators to closely examine the economic policy positions and records of the GOP field.
On October 28, CNBC will host the third GOP primary debate, which will be split into two parts. The top 10 polling GOP contenders -- Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul -- will participate in a two-hour primetime debate, while four other GOP candidates -- Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum -- will participate in a debate a few hours earlier. Both debates will be moderated by CNBC anchors Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick, and CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.
According to an October 21 CNBC press release, the debate "will focus on the key issues that matter to all voters -- job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy."
Below are four suggestions for how CNBC's moderators can press the GOP field about the intersections between the economy and: money in politics, climate change, tax cuts for the wealthy, and immigration reform.
The growing crisis of barely-regulated money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision was brought into stark relief by a recent New York Times report which found that "[j]ust 158 families have provided nearly half the early money for efforts to capture the White House." According to a Media Matters analysis, since March 23, a total of 52 segments on CNBC discussed issues related to money in politics, but campaign finance reform was mentioned just once. CNBC should ask candidates about our country's broken campaign finance system not just because 78 percent of Americans polled favor overturning Citizens United, but also because unlimited campaign contributions help shape negative economic policy outcomes. According to a May 2014 issue brief by the Center for American Progress, campaign contributions and lobbying can significantly increase "rent-seeking," which economists agree "causes a net societal loss that harms the economy." And if CNBC moderators need another reason to ask the candidates about money in politics, they should just look around: the GOP debate will be held at the University of Colorado's Coors Events Center, a venue so-named because of a sizeable contribution made by the Adolph Coors Foundation, an organization involved in funneling dark money to conservative causes.
Here is what recent research suggests: Climate change-fueled wildfires are already straining the budgets of Western states, climate change could reduce the United States' per capita GDP by 36 percent by 2100, and more than $1 trillion worth of property and structures are presently at risk from climate change-fueled sea level rise. The severe economic risks associated with climate change should be more than enough reason for CNBC moderators to question the GOP field about this urgent issue, which could drastically impact businesses of all sizes. Climate change recently became part of the 2016 campaign in a significant way when battleground incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced her support for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, citing the interests of the New Hampshire business community. Ayotte joined a group of major corporations and financial decision makers, including 81 signatories to the American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge, mega food companies such as General Mills, Kellogg Company, Mars, Inc., and Nestle USA, leading banking institutions including Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo, and many other major corporations. Asking the GOP field about the economic consequences of climate change would also be an opportunity for the network to improve its coverage of the issue. According to a Media Matters analysis of the first nine months of 2013, more than half of CNBC's coverage of the issue included climate science denial.
Throughout the 2016 presidential primary campaign, GOP candidates have routinely pitched their tax plans as "populist," despite the fact that each and every proposal disproportionately benefits the wealthy. And media have fallen for the claim time and time again. When Donald Trump announced his plan on September 28, Politico claimed in a headline that the billionaire businessman planned to "hike taxes on the wealthy" -- even though the plan calls for cutting the top marginal tax rate, cutting the corporate income tax rate, and eliminating the estate tax. The media outlet had relied solely on Trump's false characterization of his plan to write that headline. In an October 14 article in The New York Times, debate co-moderator Harwood criticized several candidates for describing themselves in populist terms but "sh[ying] away from economic populism," while crafting tax policies that "deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent." During the debate, Harwood should continue to hold the candidates to this same standard, pushing them to accurately explain what their tax reform plans do and who they benefit.
Falsehoods about immigration routinely begin as conservative media claims before becoming talking points used by GOP presidential candidates. CNBC should be on the lookout for several common false claims about immigration and the economy, and be prepared to factcheck fabricated statistics on the issue. Conservative media often claim that deporting undocumented immigrants would help the economy by saving taxpayers money. In one variation of that claim published by Breitbart News, each deported household would save taxpayers $700,000. In fact, the opposite is true -- the cost of deporting longstanding undocumented immigrants in the United States would cost more than $114 billion, and according to a report from Center for American Progress, the "cost to the overall economy would likely be far more." Other claims to look out for include: false connections between immigration and African-American unemployment rates; the erroneous claim that immigration decreases American wages and increases unemployment; and the baseless argument that immigrant children are straining American school systems and driving up taxes.
Forbes contributor Carrie Sheffield claimed public sector unions hurt upward mobility for private sector workers, but ignored the effects the decline of private sector union membership have had on stagnating wages and reducing ladders of opportunity for American workers.
On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on "snail mating habits," is "not a scientist":
As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:
Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.
The Washington Post hid almost a full year of job creation in Ohio, suggesting that it was only after Republicans won elections in 2010 that the economy began to recover.
The Post highlighted the heavy focus on Ohio during the waning days of the presidential election and reported:
Over the past two years, Ohio's economy has begun to rebound. Unemployment stands at 7 percent, below the national average and down from 9.4 percent in November 2010, when Republicans scored major victories in the midterm elections. Republican Gov. John Kasich claims his policies have helped turn around the economy, but the brightening picture gives a potential lift to Obama as Election Day nears.
But the unemployment rate in Ohio had been falling the entire year leading up to the 2010 election, after it had peaked at 10.6 percent in late 2009. The unemployment rate in the state declined throughout 2010 and by September 2012 had dropped to the lowest level since before President Obama was elected.
Fox News' Stuart Varney suggested that third quarter economic growth as measured by the Commerce Department was a conspiracy to help reelect President Obama, pointing to the fact that economic growth was driven in part by increased government spending.
On Friday, the Commerce Department released its initial estimate of gross domestic product, reporting that the economy grew by 2 percent in the third quarter. That figure was slightly higher than what economists had estimated.
Varney, discussing the figure on Fox News, raised doubts about the numbers, saying: "Dig deeper. Look inside that report, and you see a big 9.6 percent jump in government spending. There is some suspicion that these numbers have been juiced by government spending deliberately in that quarter, in the report, right before the election."
The increase in government spending during the third quarter marked the first quarter in two years when government spending increased. But the rate of increase was not unprecedented, undermining Varney's effort to make this an election year conspiracy. Spending by the federal government jumped by 9.6 percent during the third quarter, driven primarily by increased defense spending. Federal spending increased at a similar rate during the final three months of 2008 and during the second quarter of 2010. Federal spending increased by 13.7 percent during the second quarter of 2009.
Varney's GDP trutherism comes on the heels of his suggestion earlier this month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was manipulating unemployment data to boost Obama's reelection chances, part of a broader right-wing effort to downplay positive economic news.
The Columbus Dispatch relied on cherry-picked economic data to endorse Mitt Romney for president, painting a distorted picture of the Ohio economy and ignoring Romney's opposition to the successful rescue of the auto industry.
In its October 21 endorsement, the Dispatch wrote:
After nearly four years of economic stagnation, massive unemployment, record-setting debt and government intrusions into the economy that have paralyzed the private sector, the United States needs a new direction. For this reason, The Dispatch urges voters to choose Republican Mitt Romney for president in the Nov. 6 election.
The Dispatch backed up its endorsement by distorting a key economic indicator: the unemployment rate. Specifically, the endorsement cited the right-wing canard that the national unemployment rate was "above 8 percent for 43 of the past 44 months." This masks the fact that the national unemployment rate has been dramatically falling for the past year, part of a broader 2-year decline that has brought the unemployment rate to its lowest level since Obama took office.
And the Dispatch, one of the largest newspapers in Ohio, made no mention of how the Ohio economy has fared under Obama.
In fact, the unemployment situation in Ohio completely undermines the Dispatch argument that Obama's economic stewardship has failed Ohioans. The Ohio unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in January 2009, when Obama took office. The current unemployment rate in the state is 7 percent. The unemployment rate in Ohio is almost 20 percent lower since Obama took office. This is part of a larger trend: the unemployment rate dropped in 41 states in September.
The Dispatch also defended its endorsement by touting what it described as Romney's "wealth of executive experience in the private sector and the public sector," arguing that "Romney's adult life has been spent turning around troubled private and public institutions."
Romney has gone to great lengths to hide his opposition to the auto rescue, dishonestly claiming that he supported the same managed bankruptcy that the Obama administration used to rescue the auto industry in 2009. In reality, Romney's position would have deprived GM and Chrysler of the money needed to get through bankruptcy, and likely would have led to the auto companies being forced into liquidation.
The auto industry accounts for 850,000 jobs in Ohio. It's journalistic malpractice for the Dispatch to ignore the auto rescue while defending Romney's record investing in struggling companies.
From the September 29 edition of Fox News' Cashin' In:
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Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.
CNN contributor Ari Fleisher distorted the history of a Wisconsin auto plant that closed in 2008, a dishonest attempt to defend Paul Ryan from scrutiny over false claims he has made.
Ryan has been sharply critical of President Obama's rescue of the U.S. auto industry in 2009, falsely accusing Obama of going back on a promise to save a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan returned to that claim during his convention speech Wednesday:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: "I believe that if our government is there to support you ... this plant will be here for another hundred years." That's what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
Independent fact-checkers have rated Ryan's charge false, pointing out that the Janesville plant closed in 2008, before Obama took office. Fleischer, who appeared on CNN to dissect Ryan's speech, rejected the analysis of those fact-checkers. Announcing his intention to "fact-check the fact-checkers," Fleischer cited a September 2011 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article and said:
The Janesville plant stopped production of SUVs in 2008 and was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks. Paul Ryan was right. The fact-checkers are wrong.
But fact-checkers have already factored that evidence into their analysis. According to PolitiFact, which pointed out that the plant did in fact close before Obama took office, "Several dozen workers stayed on another four months to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors."
This evidence, already in the public record, does nothing to disprove the fact that the decision to close the Janesville plant was made before Obama took office.
The very same Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Fleischer cited as the authoritative voice on this issue reported that the Janesville plant closed in December 2008:
Workers finished the final production shift and walked out of the General Motors plant Tuesday, personal belongings and unchecked emotions in tow, never again likely to see the inside of the sprawling industrial complex that provided a livelihood and a way of life for generations.
That the last vehicle rolled off the line on a gloomy late December day punctuated by snow and biting wind under a sodden gray sky seemed appropriate. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, 12/24/08, via Nexis]
Mitt Romney's failure to lay out specific plans received another pass in the media this morning when CBS News declined to press Romney on how he would replace Wall Street regulations he has said he will eliminate.
Romney has been adamant that he will repeal Wall Street regulations that were enacted after the financial crisis, a promise the Boston Globe reported is "helping him reap millions from Wall Street contributors." Romney has said he would replace those regulations with a "streamlined, modern regulatory framework."
Exactly what that regulatory framework would look like remains a mystery. A May 2 Boston Globe article noted that Romney has been "nearly silent on how - without the regulation - he would prevent Wall Street from once again engaging in the risky practices that helped cause the 2008 financial crisis."
Romney's silence on how he would regulate Wall Street after repealing existing regulations was not broken during his interview on CBS.
Asked about comments Vice President Joe Biden made criticizing Republicans for a deregulatory zeal toward Wall Street, Romney said that "we have to have regulation" on Wall Street and protested that "no one is talking about deregulating Wall Street."
CBS' Anthony Mason and Gayle King passed up the opportunity to press Romney on how exactly how he would replace the regulatory framework, and just what a "streamlined, modern regulatory framework" would look like.
It's difficult to see how this appearance differed from a Romney stump speech. At a recent campaign event in St. Augustine, FL, Romney offered:
[T]he president put in place this big financial regulatory bill known as Dodd-Frank. Eight thousand new pages of regulations have come out. (Boos.) I mean, there's some stories here that are amazing. They -- they have an idea they want to simplify the three-page mortgage form, application form, and -- and so they put out a guide for how to simplify it. (Laughter.) The guide is 1,100 pages, all right? (Laughter.) That's your government at work. (Chuckles.)
I -- I want to -- I want to make sure we reregulate our financial services sector. We have to have regulation, but we need it modern and up to date. When you have massive regulations, it makes it harder for small banks and regional banks to be able to make the loan modifications they need to make and to also get credit to people. I'm going to go to work to help the housing market in Florida and across the country, and the best thing I can do is to get people good jobs with rising incomes so we can buy homes again. [via Nexis]
Figuring out how Romney plans to do that is the job of journalists.
The Wall Street Journal is helping Republicans pivot from job creation to deficit reduction, writing that the 2012 election will be defined primarily as a debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. Not once did the Journal mention jobs or unemployment.
Here's the Journal's take on Mitt Romney's decision Saturday to name Paul Ryan his vice presidential candidate:
In an election defined by competing visions for taming the deficit, Republicans are buoyed by Mr. Ryan's choice because few in the party can talk about fiscal issues with more comfort and depth than the author of the most prominent budget-reform proposals.
Never mind that economists say that shifting focus from creating jobs to deficit reduction is wrong-headed. Paul Ryan! Squirrel!
The Journal spent more than 1,100 words explaining the impact Ryan would have on the presidential race, but not one of those words was "job."
That's unfortunate. The people who will actually be voting in the November election say that the economy and jobs remain the top priority, not debt and deficits.
Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum rewrote economic history to blame President Obama for the recession that began in December 2007, arguing that the economy "got worse" in 2009.
The Commerce Department on Friday reported that the economy grew by 1.5 percent during the second quarter, a slower rate of growth than the first three months of the year. MacCallum, claiming to provide "a little context" to those figures, noted that the economy actually declined throughout 2008. She then put some deceptive Fox spin on the numbers:
It got worse in 2009. In fact, that's when we had our two quarters of consecutive loss and that's what put us into the actual official recessionary status.
Nothing about MacCallum's analysis is true.
The Wall Street Journal's Gordon Crovitz jumped on the "you didn't build that" distortion bandwagon yesterday, attacking President Obama for citing the "government research" that "created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet." To rebut the president, Crovitz offered a lengthy response to a point Obama never made, made a wealth of assertions that (according to his own sources) were wrong, and in the end actually ended up proving the point the president did make: that government-funded projects contribute to success in private enterprise.
First, let's take a look at what Obama said:
OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
Now here's Crovitz's take on Obama's (selectively edited) comments:
A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens--and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.
It's a myth! And had Obama said that "the government launched the Internet," he would have been guilty of propagating that myth. Fortunately, he didn't say that. Nonetheless, Crovitz took it upon himself to correct the president on who "invented" the internet -- Xerox, not the government: