Legislative Lowdown: Obama stumbles in first debate

Brian Darling Liberty Government Affairs
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Most pundits (and, indeed, most polls) declared Mitt Romney the winner — in terms of both substance and demeanor — of the Denver debate. This is interesting news for taxpayers.

Both Romney and Barack Obama used the debate to articulate — at least in part — their respective agendas for 2013. On Wednesday, President Obama made it clear that he would push for tax hikes to close the deficit. It also appears as though he will “play defense” to preserve the Dodd-Frank financial regulations and his “none of the above” energy policy.

Gov. Romney declared his intent to not only keep current tax rates from rising, but to push for lower taxes for all Americans. He also reiterated his intent to push for structural reform of Medicare and Medicaid so that they become financially viable. And, clearly, Romney would press aggressively to expand domestic oil extraction.

Romney and Obama battled on the proper role of the federal government and touched on the nature of spending cuts for the next four years during the hour and a half debate. How these issues play with voters will make a big difference well before 2013, though. Their reception will also deeply affect what proposals are picked up and advanced during this year’s post-election lame-duck session.

Defund CPB

One issue raised at the debate was the continuing federal subsidy to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney vowed. Though professing love for Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Romney said he is not willing “to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.” He also questioned the morality of today’s politicians borrowing money to pay for nonessential programs and passing the tab on to future generations.

PBS and National Public Radio (NPR) are partially funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB was established by law in 1969 with an ever-increasing budget for public broadcasting. The president requested $445 million for CPB in this year’s budget, which would bring the administration’s four-year spending total on CPB to approximately $1.7 billion. Many consider government-funded domestic news and entertainment to be nonessential. Some even question its constitutionality.

The federal government has amassed a $16 trillion debt and annual deficits of over $1 trillion. America can’t afford to fund these programs to the detriment of helping those truly in need. Conservatives like Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) want to eliminate federal funding for CPB.

With Washington still unable to balance its budget, it may be time for Big Bird and his pals to find employment in the private sector.

Repeal Dodd-Frank

Mitt Romney made it quite clear: He’s no fan of Dodd-Frank. In fact, he wants to repeal and replace it. His major beef with the regulatory scheme: It protects “too big to fail” Wall Street Goliaths, while harming smaller financial institutions.

Dodd-Frank has proved to be very controversial. It did not address many of the core causes of the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. But it did create a whole new bureaucratic entity: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB has extraordinary power to regulate financial institutions — and it is free to do as it wishes, without congressional oversight.

The CFPB is an open invitation to crony capitalism. Dodd-Frank, if not fully repealed, should be sharply scaled back.

Lame-duck dangers loom

A bipartisan group of senators is secretly swapping ideas for how to hike taxes. The goal is to raise revenues to avert scheduled spending cuts agreed to last year as part of the deal to increase the debt limit.

Calling themselves the “Gang of Eight,” the group appears to be embracing aspects of the previously failed Simpson-Bowles plan to impose a massive tax hike on the American people. Think of it as a counterweight to the efforts of conservatives to prevent automatic tax hikes while pursuing comprehensive tax reform.

Congressional Quarterly identifies as “Gang” members: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Michael Crapo (R-Ida.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). They are meeting privately right now to craft a plan to undo defense spending cuts and hike your taxes.

Brian Darling is Senior Fellow for Government Studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).