Questions for presidential candidates

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June 9, 2015


SAFE is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization, with members in Delaware and over 20 other states, which has been advocating smaller, more focused, less costly government since 1996. Although things have generally been moving in the other direction, we are hopeful that the results of the 2016 elections (including, very importantly, the presidential race) will put this country on a better path.

As this early stage in the proceedings, each of you is being asked 12 questions (list attached). These questions should serve the dual purpose of communicating our sense of the key issues in campaign and helping candidates to respond thereto.

Your responses would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your anticipated interest and cooperation.


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• In addition to posting this letter online, we plan to mail individually addressed copies to the presidential candidates.

• Please direct responses to

(T = trillion)

1. Do you agree the federal government should do a relatively few things and do them well, instead of trying to do everything for everybody and quite possibly winding up with subpar performance across the board? If so, what current functions or units of the government would you propose to eliminate? If not, are you basically satisfied with the status quo or do you believe the scope and reach of government should be further expanded (please specify what expanded or new programs you envision)?

2. Should the federal government’s fiscal goal be to (a) run surpluses so as to gradually pay off the national debt (currently over $18T), (b) balance the budget and keep it that way, (c) run a “sustainable” deficit, or (d) do something else (please specify what)?

3. Over $19T (in constant 2014 dollars) has been spent on the “War on Poverty” since this effort was announced by LBJ in 1964. War on Poverty turns 50: Are we winning yet? Cato Institute,
10/20/14. Government data show little reduction in the poverty rate, however, and there has been continued or worsening social unrest in inner cities around the country, e.g., Baltimore. Do you believe the War on Poverty has (a) been a well-meaning but costly failure, serving to foster dependency instead of ending poverty, (b) served its intended purpose, or (c) fallen short due to inadequate support? As president, what policy changes would you propose?

4. With an aging population, the cost of Social Security and Medicare benefits (not considered part of the War on Poverty) will grow rapidly in coming years. The resulting outlook: (a) outlays for traditional government functions will be under pressure, (b) taxes will be raised, and (c) deficits will soar. Fiscal experts have been warning for years that adjustments must be made, and that there will be a disastrous fiscal meltdown if action is not taken in time. See, e.g., Comeback America, David Walker,
2010. Instead of addressing this problem, our political leaders have kept kicking the can down the road. Are you prepared to change this, and how would you go about it?

5. Do you agree the tax system should be simple, efficient and fair? And re fairness, do you believe that (a) everyone should pay tax at the same rates based on their income or consumption, (b) graduated tax rates are appropriate, but all earners should pay some income tax so they will have a stake in the overall cost of government, or (c) lower level earners should pay essentially zero (or even negative) income taxes? How well do you think the current tax system measures up against the simple, efficient and fair criteria? And assuming there is room for improvement, how should the system be changed?

6. Governments collect about 31% of the nation’s income as taxes (Federal $3.3T, State & local $1.5T). Tax Foundation,
3/30/15. In addition the estimated annual cost of complying with government regulations (federal only) is about $1.9T. Competitive Enterprise Institute, May 2015. In total, then, the tax and regulatory burden on the US economy is some 44%. Do you believe this burden is (a) excessive, (b) about right, or (c) not high enough? If your answer is either (a) or (c), how much should the burden be reduced or increased and how would you propose to do this (please specify changes in tax or regulatory policies that would be involved)?

7. Despite claims that manmade global warming is a huge threat, satellite measurements show no significant increase in average global temperatures over the past 18 years – even as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (currently about .04%) has continued to increase. If other factors (e.g., the level of solar activity) are driving global temperatures, there is no good reason for a switch to more expensive, less reliable energy sources. Also, other countries, e.g., China and India, might not choose to accept the economic penalty involved by following the US lead. Given the foregoing, do you support proposals of the EPA et al. to mandate carbon emission reductions in this country? If not, how should the agencies be stopped?

8. Although the unemployment rate has fallen considerably since the 2008-2009 recession and is now back to an essentially “normal” level of 5.5% (May 2015), the workforce participation rate has fallen to its lowest level since the late 1970s/early 1980s. Do these results reflect real economic progress, or is the key point that so many working age Americans are choosing to stop looking for a job and live on the dole? Tax work, subsidize idleness, and batten down the hatches,
2/17/14. And if the second premise is correct, what should be done about it?

9. Some studies suggest that “comprehensive immigration reform” would bolster the government’s fiscal position. See, e.g., Congressional Budget Office,
6/18/13. The theory is that the new arrivals will find employment and pay taxes, thereby outweighing the government benefits to which they will be entitled. This would seem to overlook the alternative of encouraging current residents who are out of work to take the jobs that Americans supposedly “don’t want,” which could generate the same tax revenues and also reduce social welfare benefits. Do you agree that any immigration reform worthy of the name must (a) stop the flow of illegal immigrants (not just by “securing the border,” but also by deporting people who overstay their visas and cracking down on the widespread employment of undocumented workers), and (b) establish the background and number of legal immigrants that this country wishes to permit going forward?

10. Do you believe the US should maintain the strongest military forces in the world, and that this nation’s margin of superiority has been allowed to dwindle in recent years? If budget cuts and unclear policies encourage other nations to challenge US dominance, could the long-term costs far exceed the immediate savings? What should be the basis for using US military force, e.g., only where vital national interests are involved (please define) or also for humanitarian purposes?

11. Leaving aside what mistakes were made and by whom, do you agree that the current situation in the Middle East is grave and getting worse? What will be the consequences if Iran is allowed to get nuclear weapons, and how long will it take for the Arab nations to follow suit? Do you believe “all options are open” to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and what are the chances that sanctions alone would suffice?

12. A federal government makeover would be a daunting project. Many actions would be involved, some requiring years to accomplish, and people would need to be convinced that the effort was serious before they buckled down to support it. Perhaps a list of “quick hit” actions would be helpful to get the ball rolling. SAFE proposed such a list two years ago (see below), and most of the ideas remain applicable. Would you support this plan, or something like it (please explain any additions, deletions or other changes that you would propose)?

SAFE’s list (for discussion see “Less is more: a 10-step plan to reboot the economy,” 9/2/13).

•Grant a permit for the Keystone Pipeline [northern portion, southern portion has been built], which would transport Canadian crude oil (primarily produced from the Alberta tar sands) to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

•Enact legislation prohibiting the EPA or any other administrative agency from regulating or taxing carbon emissions.

•Repeal the federal minimum wage.

•Tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps.

•Repeal the Federal Reserve dual mandate.

•Repeal the ethanol blending requirements in motor fuel.

•Restore defense budget to level requested by the Department of Defense.

•Amend federal bankruptcy law to explicitly provide that unfunded employee/retiree commitments can be adjusted in bankruptcy.

•Proceed with revenue neutral tax reform.

•Delay GovCare implementation for one year. [Out of date, but there may be other ways to minimize the bad effects of this legislation until a suitable replacement can be put in place.]

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