GOP Debate Fails Voters

“We need the strongest military on the face of the planet,” said Carly Fiorina, one of the “winners” of last week’s Republican presidential debate. “And, specifically, what that means is we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300 and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad.”

Strong talk and no one on stage disagreed with her.

No one said how they would pay for a stronger military either, though nearly all lamented the growing national debt.

Jeb Bush jumped on board. “If we’re going to lead the world, then we need to have the strongest military possible,” he said, adding, “The first thing that we need to do is to stop the craziness of the sequester.”

Remember the “sequester?”

It was the plan to force drastic across-the-board spending cuts that would never become law because sensible Republicans and Democrats would first agree on a rational deficit reduction plan.

Oops. They didn’t agree and the sequester became law.

And, yes, it drastically cut both discretionary and military spending for one year, until the Ryan-Murray budget deal temporarily eased sequester cuts for two years.

Now, the Ryan-Murray deal is timing out and no plan to further delay the sequester has emerged. No doubt that’s true because Republicans want to campaign for increased military spending, Democrats want to campaign for increased domestic spending, and both want to blame the other for doing nothing about the national debt.

When GOP presidential candidates propose programs that require more spending, they should have to explain how they can do that and still bring deficits under control. The CNN debate panel failed voters here. No one asked Fiorina, Bush, or other candidates how they could spend more and still eliminate deficit spending.

Of course, we’ve watched this talk-but-do-nothing game for years. Remember the Simpson-Bowles balanced budget plan in 2010? Remember the bipartisan “gang of six” U.S. Senators who proposed a deficit reduction plan in 2011? Remember the “grand bargain” budget deal House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama attempted to reach in 2012? Remember the “super committee” whose role was to avoid the sequester?

All were scuttled… by Republicans because they included tax hikes or by Democrats because they impacted some entitlement program.

A sad irony arising from last week’s debate results from its location, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Reagan did what the candidates touted – he bolstered military spending and enacted a big tax cut. But he also agreed to tax increases when he needed to make deals with Democrats to get programs funded and to keep deficits under control.

Haley Barbour, who worked for Reagan, has said that Reagan “had to compromise to get big things passed. And Lord, did he ever get big things passed.”

That’s what presidential leadership is all about. Talk is easy. Getting big things done is hard. These debates ought to help us see through the talk.

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