Tax Rates Loom As Debate Poser For Democrats

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The Democratic presidential candidates open their first debates this evening at Miami. If precedent holds, they’ll be less debates than group interviews, driven in large part by the agenda of the journalists posing questions.

That gives the anchors — Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, and José Diaz-Balart — or their producers more debate-shaping power than the candidates or the voters. NBC is soliciting questions from voters via a web-based form, and the campaigns are certainly capable of informally suggesting to NBC questions that might be posed to rival candidates. Here are some question I’d like to see asked.

For all the candidates: You all want to raise taxes higher than they are now. Why should any middle-class American watching tonight believe you when you say you want to increase taxes only on “the rich” and not on them? At what income level will the tax increase you propose start hitting families? In terms of the size of the increases, is there any percentage marginal tax rate that you’d be willing to say is just too high — more than is fair for any American to pay to local, state, and federal government combined? Say, 90 cents of every dollar? Seventy cents?

You all say that President Trump has been too harsh and restrictive in his immigration policies. Is there any level of legal or illegal immigration to America that you think is too much? If so, what would you do to enforce the legal limits?

Which of Mr. Trump’s changes, if any, would you try to undo? Move the U.S. embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem? Get back in the Iran nuclear deal? Get back in the old North American Free Trade Agreement? The Trans-Pacific Partnership? Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Many of you have been critical of Mr. Trump for eroding America’s relations with our traditional European allies. That relationship has been based in part on American taxpayers funding the defense of Europe by spending 3.5% of U.S. GDP on defense when countries like Germany and France spend less than 2% of GDP on defense. Why should American taxpayers bear the burden of defending wealthy European countries, and what, if anything, would you do to get the Europeans to pay more?

Many of you are proposing to spend more money on education and health care. What is going to stop the colleges and health-care providers from raising prices by the amount of the new subsidies, leaving consumers no better off than before? And why should middle-class Americans in other less-subsidized industries be taxed more to support increased spending on education and health care?

Many of you fault President Trump for scapegoating immigrants or minorities for America’s problems. How is your criticism of large technology companies or the pharmaceutical industry or Wall Street or millionaires and billionaires different from Trump’s blame-placing?

What, if anything, will you do about restrictive zoning laws that are driving up housing costs by preventing the creation of new apartment buildings?

Are you at all concerned about a lack of viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses? If so, what, if anything, can be done about it?

Do you think the opioid epidemic is mostly about greedy pharmaceutical companies and about insufficient treatment and rehabilitation resources? Or does it point to some deeper spiritual crisis of loneliness, lack of community or meaning, and despair, and, if so, what, if anything, can be done about that?

What’s your proposed solution to entrenched, multigenerational poverty? How big a problem do you think that is?

What’s your view of the finances of Social Security and Medicare going forward?

What’s your goal for real annual GDP growth in the U.S. in your presidential administration, and what policies would you pursue to reach it?

Do you think the Federal Reserve’s current “dual mandate” of maximum employment and price stability is the right mission? Or would you support subtracting or adding to it? What policy would your administration pursue on the dollar?

What do you think of Ronald Reagan? George W. Bush? Jimmy Carter? Barack Obama? Bill Clinton? What were their biggest strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, in your view? What have you learned from what they did in office?

What’s the single biggest national security threat facing America and what would you do about it?

What is something you were wrong about?

Is there any problem that you think the federal government can’t solve and should give up on trying to solve? If so, what is it?

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