9 Economic Policy Issues The GOP Candidates Likely Won’t Address During The Economic Policy Debate

The candidates stand behind their podiums during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK J. TERRILL
The candidates stand behind their podiums during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK J. TERRILL

The Republican presidential candidates will gather Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado for their third debate. While the first two debates touched on a variety of topics but were heavily dominated by big personalities and standard conservative arguments, this third debate will force the candidates to discuss the economy in more depth.

The topic may be harder for some than others. Donald Trump and Ben Carson can talk about how they would create jobs, but neither has ever held political office or pushed for a specific economic agenda. Others, like the current and former governors, will have to contend with how their economic policies hurt their own states.

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CNBC has announced that the debate will focus on “key issues that matter to all voters — job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” But here are nine other economic policies that also matter to all voters, but likely will not be discussed:

Income inequality

The gap between the very rich and everyone else in the United States is wider right now than at any time since the 1920s, the peak of the stock market bubble. Income inequality has been growing steadily since the 1970s, but has gotten even worse since the 2008 Great Recession. As Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders so often points out, the United States is the richest country in the world, but that means little for most Americans.

The Republican candidates’ economic plans would exacerbate the differences in wealth in the U.S., so expect to hear more about tax breaks for the wealthy than any plans to address income inequality.

CREDIT: EMMANUEL SAEZ
CREDIT: EMMANUEL SAEZ

The gender pay gap

The average women working full time last year made just 79 percent of what a similar man made and the gap is even larger for women of color. There hasn’t been a significant reduction of the wage gap since 2007 — progress has all but flatlined since 2000 due in large part to the slowdown in women’s wage growth.

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But Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rand Paul have voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would address male–female income disparity, with Rubio saying that Democrats pushing for the legislation are wasting time on “scoring political points.” Other candidates like Jeb Bush have said that laws on the books already guarantee equal pay.

CREDIT: Census Bureau
CREDIT: Census Bureau

Breaking up big banks

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sanders have proposed plans to crack down on financial institutions and other players on Wall Street that have benefited from rising corporate profits while the middle class lags behind. Earlier this month, she also unveiled a plan to work towards breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks.

Many of the Republican candidates have called for repealing the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation to allow for unrestrained lending and trading. The pro-business sentiment among most Republican voters is likely to limit attacks on big banks during the primary.

Paid sick and family leave

Just four states currently have laws requiring most employers to offer five days of paid sick leave per year to their employees. There is no national requirement, unlike all other developed counties, leaving about 40 percent of the workforce without the ability to take a paid day off. Obama announced last month an executive action to require all federal contractors to grant at least seven days, but Republicans generally oppose expanding the policy.

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Rubio became the first candidate to offer a plan for paid family leave last month, but his proposal — a tax credit — may not be enough to encourage all employers to offer the leave. His support is notable, though, given that most other Republican candidates including Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have said they think the government should not play a role in mandating leave.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Student loans

Americans collectively owe $1.3 trillion in college loans and 17 percent of borrowers are behind in their payments or in default. The issue is specifically a concern to younger voters, with 65 ­­percent of student loans held by Americans younger than 39.

Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley have all backed plans for debt-free higher education. While Republican candidates frequently frame the issue as a barrier to economic mobility, most have not come up with any specific plans to address the issue. The most vocal on the issue has been Rubio, who finished paying off his student loans in 2012 and who has introduced legislation in Congress to simplify federal student loan repayment.

Poverty

In 2014, there were 46.7 million people in the U.S. living in poverty, making up 14.8 percent of the population. The rates for African Americans and Hispanics are even higher at roughly 25 percent. Approximately 70 percent of adults in poverty have a high school degree or above but are still living below the poverty level because 50 percent of jobs in the U.S. pay less than $35,100 a year.

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But most of the Republican candidates on the debate stage have opposed increasing the federal minimum wage or expanding government safety net programs like food stamps and housing assistance, both efforts that could help alleviate the country’s high rate of poverty. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for example, has a plan to give handouts to the rich and gut poverty programs by turning them into block grants.

CREDIT: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
CREDIT: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Mass transit

Americans are relying more on public transportation than ever before, but Republicans in Congress have tried to pass a budget that would eliminate funding for mass transit systems and disproportionately hurt low-income urban communities that heavily rely on public transportation systems.

A record 10.8 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in 2014, the highest ridership numbers in 58 years. The topic isn’t often discussed in debates, but it would make sense for the Republican candidates to address how their economic plans would address the growing reliance on mass transit in the U.S. and if they would continue to press for eliminating funding from the budget.

Money in politics

Studies have shown that campaign contributions can lead to inefficient economic policy. As more and more political money comes from a small number of large donors or corporations who want to influence the political process, it becomes more likely that those people and business will seek favors and advocate for economic policies that are wasteful, inefficient, or even harmful.

Democratic candidates have called for reforms to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, but the GOP candidates, most of whom benefit from large donors, are not likely to discuss the growing problem. It also seems unlikely that the CNBC host John Harwood will ask a question about campaign finance because of how infrequently the network discusses money in politics.

CREDIT: Media Matters
CREDIT: Media Matters

Unions

While the number of people who actually belong to a union has continued to decline over recent decades, being a member still comes with important benefits, including an overall 11.3 percent wage boost for being in a union. The benefits are even greater for marginalized groups like women and people of color. Women who work full-time and are represented by a union make about 30 percent more a week, on average, than women who aren’t unionized, and the same trend is true for people of color.

The GOP candidates are largely anti-union and will likely ignore the topic altogether.

CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/THINKPROGRESS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/THINKPROGRESS