7 August 2015

4 hidden gems in the first GOP Debate

By Preston Cooper

Last night’s GOP debate offered plenty of great moments, including Scott Walker’s wink, Mike Huckabee’s “pimps” reference, and the many waggings of Donald Trump’s finger. There was some substantive discussion of policy, too. A few candidates, however, made only passing references to ideas that should have gotten more time. Here are four of them.

  1. Marco Rubio: People Who Want to Immigrate Legally Are Waiting Too Long

A large chunk of the debate focused on illegal immigration; indeed, disagreement on what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States consumes the public discourse and arguably prevents progress on immigration reform. But Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) earned audience applause when he noted that many of the calls his office gets are from people who want to immigrate legally and live the American Dream, but have been waiting up to 15 years for Washington bureaucracy to let them in.

Increasing legal immigration should be near the top of the GOP to-do list. Evidence shows that more immigration quickens economic growth and even boosts the wages of native-born workers. A party which claims to embrace free enterprise should be enthusiastic about free movement of labor. And heaven knows there are opportunities for reform here: the waiting list for a green card is 4.4 million long, and high-skilled immigrants who could build the next Google are returning home for lack of visas. While illegal immigration deserves some time on the docket, the much bigger question is what the candidates will do to open our borders to those who want to become Americans legally.

  1. Donald Trump: Artificial Lines for Health Insurance on State Borders

It was buried in a heap of Trumpo-jumbo, but I assume the Donald’s comment on “artificial lines for health insurance” refers to the McCarran-Ferguson Act, an obscure 1945 law which banned the purchase of health insurance across state lines. This has led to fewer options for consumers, as individual state health insurance markets came to be dominated by just a few insurers—in the average state, three insurance companies control 88 percent of the market.

GOP candidates frequently talk about repealing Obamacare but are less clear on what to do afterwards. The American healthcare system, even before Obamacare, hardly represented healthy competition, and consumers pay for the lack of a free market through higher prices. Repealing the ban on interstate purchases of health insurance is a good first step towards making insurance more affordable.

  1. Jeb Bush: We Spend More On Education Than Any Other Country

This is an objective fact, but one too few people are aware of. A recent study estimated that in 2010, the United States spent $15,171 per pupil on education through college, compared to the OECD average of $9,313. And yet all that cash buys us only average or below-average test scores when compared to other developed countries.

The problem is not how much we’re spending, but how we’re spending it. Despite the recent growth of charter schools and other innovations in cities like New York and Washington, 86 percent of students receive their education from traditional public schools. Bush advocated school choice programs to foster competition in our primary education system. He’s right. Studies show that charter schools spend $1,800 less per pupil but give their students better outcomes. Giving parents more freedom to choose where to send their children to school will not only give their kids a better education, it may save us money, too.

  1. Chris Christie: 71% of the Federal Budget Is Entitlements and Debt Service

Yes, entitlement reform is a popular issue for Republicans, Mike Huckabee notwithstanding. But the scale of the problem often goes underappreciated. In 2014, two-thirds of the federal budget was so-called mandatory spending, or spending that occurs outside the annual budgeting process. Mandatory spending, which includes Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the debt, will just keep growing and growing unless somebody stops it (surprise: nobody’s stopping it). Without reform, the U.S. federal government faces unfunded liabilities of $205 trillion, or 12 times annual GDP.

Entitlements aren’t the only problem. The Congressional Budget Office projects that net interest on the debt will consume 17 percent of government spending by 2040. This is something the government really doesn’t have a choice on: it must service the debt, or go into default. With each passing year of inaction, Congress removes more and more of its options. The American people will be left with a credit card bill that keeps on mounting until we forget what we borrowed to pay for in the first place.

It’s encouraging to see the candidates reference these issues, which get their share of attention in the policy world but not nearly enough in Main Street discourse. The next GOP debate, I hope, will offer further comment on these problems and maybe, just maybe, some ideas to fix them.

Preston Cooper is a policy analyst with the Manhattan Institute and a Young Voices Advocate. You can follow him on Twitter @PrestonCooper93.