4 Thoughts on the GOP Debate

Romney's plans on taxation, Social Security, and trade merit scrutiny.

By + More

1) John McCain seemed to have no idea what the President's Working Group in Financial Markets is—in response to a Ron Paul question—even though the "plunge protection team" has been in the news aplenty since last August's credit crisis and a fave topic for the more conspiracy-minded folks out there. (More to come on this.)

2) Again, no one seemed to notice that Mitt Romney's tax plan—eliminating investing taxes for the middle class, basically creating a progressive consumption tax—is really every bit as radical and sweeping as Mike Huckabee's Fair Tax. I'm sure the Democrats will notice and attack it for favoring capital income over labor income.

3) Tim Russert asked a question about Social Security and how Alan Greenspan saved it in the 1983. And McCain, in the past, has referred approvingly to the Greenspan Commission. Yet Greenspan obviously didn't save Social Security. The system's long-term solvency went back into the red in 1984, and we are still debating the issue today. Greenspan just patched it by jacking up payroll taxes and extending the retirement age. So is McCain, like Barack Obama, in favor of hiking payroll taxes? No one asked. Romney, though, seemed to lay out a marker about his Social Security plan:

We're going to have to sit down with the Democrats and say, let's have a compromise on these three elements that could get us to bring Social Security into economic balance. What are they? Well, No. 1, you can have personal accounts where people can invest in something that does better than government bonds—with some portion of their Social Security. No. 2, you can say we're going to have the initial benefit calculations for wealthier Americans calculated based on the Consumer Price Index rather than the wage index. That saves almost two thirds of the shortfall. And then No. 3, you can change the retirement age. You can make—push it out a little bit. And so those are the three arithmetic things you can do.

4) Again, there was no follow-up from Romney on his proposed "Reagan Zone of Economic Freedom", a sort of alternative to the World Trade Organization and the Doha Round of world trade talks. Sounds like a big idea.