Ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said she would collapse the entire tax code to just three pages. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said he would shrink individual tax filings even further, to the size of a postcard, and eliminate the IRS.
These were two of the ideas put forward during the third Republican presidential debate, which took place at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and aired on CNBC on Wednesday night.
It was a peculiar, often hostile and frequently rambling conversation that was supposed to be about important business and economic questions. Instead, the forum often turned into a bad-tempered sniping match where the 10 candidates onstage spoke over each other at length, and lashed out against the debate moderators. And at times, the moderators appeared to lose control of the forum, as candidates accused them of bias against Republicans.
Rounding on debate moderator Carl Quintanilla, who early on asked Cruz about the newly brokered budget and debt deals in Washington on Wednesday, Cruz thundered:
This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions--"Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?" "Ben Carson, can you do math?" "John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?" "Marco Rubio, why don't you resign?" "Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?" How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?
Other candidates soon piled on, calling the questions "ridiculous," as Republican frontrunner and business mogul Donald Trump did, or "rude," as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did. Florida Senator Marco Rubio likewise called the mainstream media a super PAC for Democrats. If the candidates weren't fond of the media, they also all but ignored the pressing issues important to small-business owners.
From what they did say, here are four takeaways:
1. Corporate Taxes and the Payroll Tax
Cruz, who released details of his tax plan in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, said he would push corporate taxes down to 16 percent, from their current top rate of 35 percent, and he'd eliminate the payroll tax. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said he would also eliminate the payroll tax. Similarly, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, also a frontrunner, and Trump both said they would push corporate taxes down to 15 percent. Here's more on where the GOP presidential candidates stand on taxes.
2. The Budget
Paul said he opposed the bipartisan budget deal, brokered on Wednesday, which increases spending by $80 billion over the next two years but reduces spending on Medicare and the disability program component of Social Security. "I oppose it because you're taking money from the entitlement and then spending it immediately on other items," the senator said. Former Florida Senator Jeb Bush, whose poll numbers have been languishing in recent weeks as he struggles to be heard above the noise generated by the frequently brash Trump, said: "The deal was done. Barack Obama got his massive tax increase, and there was no spending cuts." Cruz chose to avoid the question entirely. Instead, he spent his allotted time criticizing CNBC moderators for their choice of debate questions.
John Kasich, governor of Ohio, offered yet another potentially realistic take on the deal: "You spend the money today, and then you hope you're going to save money tomorrow."
3. The Federal Reserve and Interest Rates
The Federal Reserve got its share of lashes too. Candidates almost unilaterally criticized its easy money policies since the financial crisis, which has resulted in interest rates holding near zero for nearly eight years.
"What you need to do is free up interest rates," Paul said. "Interest rates are the price of money, and we shouldn't have price controls on the price of money." Cruz and Paul said they'd install an audit system that would oversee the central bank's decisions.
Christie said he would create $1 trillion in savings for the Social Security trust fund over the next 10 years. Although he did not go into details about how he would do that, he has said in previous conversations that he would increase the full retirement age to 69, up from 67 currently. "Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years," Christie said. (The Social Security Administration says the trust fund actually has another 20 years before it runs out of money.) Bush said he would reform both Medicare and Social Security by switching the former to a health savings account system, and setting a baseline for payouts of 125 percent of poverty level for the latter. Trump said he wouldn't cut either program. Instead, he would pay for both by growing the economy. "We're going to bring jobs and manufacturing back," Trump said. "We're going to cut costs. We're going to save Social Security, and we're going to save Medicare." By contrast, Carson said he would let people choose to opt out of Medicare in favor of health savings accounts.
Earlier in the evening, in an event often referred to as "the kid's table debate," the four lowest polling candidates, who poll at less than 3 percent, got their say too. The participants were Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former New York Governor George E. Pataki, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Notably, in response to a question on what his favorite apps are, former Governor Pataki named Uber and Twitter. "When I was governor, I had a driver. I don't anymore," he said. "And it's an example of what Millennials are doing to change America for the better. And I tweet a lot, too."