Tonight’s CNBC GOP debate had about as much dysfunction as the House GOP conference, with little real conversation about the policy issues that matter. Whether they were asked about climate change, family economic security, or immigration, tonight was reflective of what the Republican Party has been for years now: a yelling match. After their two hours on a stage in Boulder, what had the Republican candidates for president offered the American people? All tricks and no treats.
This debate was further evidence that Republicans simply are not where most Americans are on many issues that impact working families, communities of color, public health, and more. Republican candidates may not think they have any weaknesses, but in the two hours following that opening question, each candidate failed to answer this simple question. Instead, they revealed a litany of weaknesses that reflect the whole party.
Oppose Action On Climate Change
In the only question posed to the GOP candidates on climate and energy issues at the CNBC debate, Gov. Chris Christie railed against “government intervention” to combat climate change, instead of offering concrete solutions to address it. This is unsurprising given that 71 percent of GOP candidates question or deny the science behind climate change — compared to only 24 percent of all voters. The gap between the GOP candidates’ position on climate change and that of the American people is not only a glaring weakness on the part of their campaigns, but it could also have detrimental consequences for both the economy and our public health.
- GOP candidates’ energy plans provide no solutions on climate change, ignoring its cost to our economy. Although the Council of Economic Advisors estimates that delaying action on climate change will cost the U.S. $150 billion annually, the energy plans offered by GOP candidates thus far fail to provide real solutions on climate change. For example, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal does not address carbon pollution at all. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush’s plan makes no mention of climate change or clean energy. Instead it undoes key public health standards, including cuts to carbon pollution. Rubio and Jeb’s failure to address climate change is especially harmful to their home state of Florida where flooding due to climate change is expected to cost the state up to $15 billion by 2030 and up to $23 billion by 2050.
- The GOP candidates’ opposition to the Clean Power Plan is bad for the economy and public health. The Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth up to $93 billion per year in 2030. Moreover, this is a plan that the private sector supports: over 60 percent of utility executives support the Clean Power Plan and 365 companies have urged governors to support the Plan.
Attack Solutions To Strengthen Women’s Economic Security
The CNBC debate offered GOP candidates ample opportunity to highlight what they could do to help make sure our economy is working for women. But rather than offer real solutions, the GOP candidates pivoted to attacking policies that strengthen women’s economic security. Asked directly about the Paycheck Fairness Action, which would help ensure women get equal pay for equal work, Sen. Ted Cruz said that the bill he and all other Senate Republicans voted against was nothing other than a way of “empowering trial lawyers to file lawsuits.” Not to be outdone, Carly Fiorina responded to a question about pay equity by offering a false statistic about women’s jobs during the Obama Administration. (At another moment during the debate, Fiorina was forced to answer again on her tenure at Hewlett Packard, during which time thousands of jobs — men’s and women’s — were lost.) Given the candidates’ unwillingness to supporting a concrete solution to closing the gender wage gap, it is unsurprising that they similarly oppose other meaningful policies to help women and their families get ahead.
- The GOP candidates won’t talk about paid family leave. Only 12 percent of private sector employees have access to paid leave through their employers — meaning that for many women, having a baby or taking time off to take care of a loved one means risking their economic security. However, Republicans were silent on paid family leave at last night’s debate — perhaps not surprising, given that Republican candidates, including Jeb, Cruz, Fiorina, and Christie, have opposed paid family leave measures. Rubio is the only candidate to offer a plan aimed at expanding paid medical leave, in the form of a big tax credit to companies who offer it — but Rubio’s plan would likely do very little to get more employers to offer paid leave.
- Several GOP 2016 voted against paid sick days. All of the GOP presidential candidates serving in the Senate — including Cruz, Paul, and Rubio — opposed a measure in support of paid sick days for all workers. Moreover, not one of the GOP candidates discussed paid sick days during the debate, even though 39 percent of American workers do not have paid sick days, and 81 percent of Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans support it.
- Despite high costs straining working families, GOP candidates offer no solutions on childcare . Sixty-five percent of children under 6 have all parents and guardians in the workforce, making quality childcare a necessity — but in a majority of states, childcare costs more than college. The Republican candidates pushed the same, tired talking points about government overreach rather than offer any concrete steps for how they would reduce the huge burden of child care costs on working families.
Fail To Support Sensible Solutions on Immigration
Once again, the candidates were given an opportunity to discuss their ideas on immigration reform. And once again they failed to propose any workable solutions that would help the millions of undocumented immigrants living here while boosting the economy. Instead, Donald Trump said he wanted to “build a wall” and Marco Rubio suggested a vague “merit-based” immigration system of some sort. The GOP candidates’ refusal to support sensible solutions on immigration has real costs to the American people and the economy.
- GOP candidates ignore the economic contributions of undocumented immigrants. When asked about whether he agrees with Mark Zuckerberg’s call to increase the number of H1B visas, Trump says he would want to keep the talented people who come here to attend elite colleges. Meanwhile, Rubio supports some sort of merit-based immigration system. Both candidates ignore the economic contributions of other immigrants, in particular Dreamers, who are here now. Indeed, expanding the deferred action program for Dreamers and passing deferred action for their parents would help over 5 million individuals work legally and live without fear of deportation. This would grow the U.S. economy cumulatively by $230 billion over 10 years.
- The GOP’s further opposition to comprehensive immigration reform will cost the American economy trillions. One of the biggest ways we could boost the economy is to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Creating a pathway to citizenship would increase the earnings of all American workers by $625 billion over the next decade and boost the US economy by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
BOTTOM LINE: The opening question of last night’s GOP debate about each candidates’ weaknesses was straightforward enough. But from Rubio saying he is an optimist, to Fiorina saying she takes the country’s problems really seriously, nine of the ten candidates failed to name a true weakness. If they are unwilling to honesty look at their own weaknesses, why should we be surprised that they are unwilling to acknowledge the real challenges facing the country? The debate unmasked the glaring weakness at the heart of this Republican presidential primary: the total lack of meaningful policies that address the real concerns of working people and families. From paycheck fairness to climate change to immigration and more, last night was reflective of what the Republican Party has been for years now: a yelling match that is all tricks and no treats.
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