I’m still working my way through the transcript of last night’s debate for Republican presidential candidates, but there was one moment that clearly stood out for its significance. It wasn’t a zinger or an attack; it was a response all of the candidates offered by raising their hands.
About midway through the event, Byron York asked Rick Santorum about the next phase of the debt-reduction process, as the Murray/Hensarling panel (the “super committee”) begins its work. “Democrats will demand that savings come from a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, maybe $3 in cuts for every $1 in higher taxes,” York noted. “Is there any ratio of cuts to taxes that you would accept? Three to one? Four to one? Or even 10 to one?”
Santorum replied, “No. The answer is no.” He conceded that revenues are down, but argued that was a positive development.
Fox News’ Bret Baier opened the question up to all eight of the candidates on the stage. Take a look at the video:
For those who can’t watch clips online, Baier phrased it this way: “I’m going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage. Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10-to-1, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases…. Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you’d walk away on the 10-to-1 deal?”
All eight candidates raised their hand. Literally all of them, if offered a debt-reduction deal that’s 10-to-1 in their favor, would simply refuse.
Let’s note for context that in March — just five months ago — Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee released a report on deficit reduction. In it, House GOP officials outlined their ideal cuts-to-revenue ratio, and concluded that “successful” attempts at deficit reduction meet this goal: “85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases.” Roughly speaking, that’s about a 5-to-1 ratio in Republicans’ favor — and this is what GOP officials characterized as their ideal earlier this year.
And yet, as of last night, every Republican running for president believes a 10-to-1 ratio simply isn’t good enough. What’s more, as the video shows, the crowd of Iowa Republicans roared with approval.
As a policy matter, if a 10-to-1 cuts-to-revenue ratio is considered far too liberal for the Republican Party in the 21st century, we can say with certainty the GOP is obviously not serious about debt reduction. We can also say with certainty Republican leaders haven’t the foggiest idea how to shape a coherent approach to fiscal sanity. But last night wasn’t about coherence or sanity; it was about impressing unhinged activists whose connection to reality is tenuous at best.
Regardless, this moment is a keeper. Anyone wanting to know why compromise has been deemed impossible in 2011 need look no further than these eight clowns raising their hand to reject a debt-reduction deal that’s overwhelmingly tilted in their favor.