Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Things you should know when Rubio talks economics in tonight's debate

If you set aside Donald Trump and Ben Carson -- and I hope that Republican voters do exactly that once they come to their senses -- then Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is at the moment the most likely GOP nominee. So as an introduction to tonight's GOP debate on Fox Business Network, I thought I'd take a closer look at the details of his economic and budget plan.

Surprise! It involves tax cuts. Big big tax cuts. Here it is in more detail:

-- Everybody gets a tax cut!! Poor people, middle-class people, rich people. Mo' money for everyone!

-- Everybody gets a tax cut!!, but defense spending would increase significantly. Yes, that would goose the deficit significantly, but we'll get to that later in this piece.

-- Everybody gets a tax cut!!, including rich dead people. The estate tax would be eliminated. (It is imposed only on estates above $5.4 million in value, or $10.4 million for a couple, so for most Americans that would mean nothing.)

-- Everybody gets a tax cut!!, especially investors, because the capital gains tax would be reduced to zero. So if you make $80,000 a year at your job, you would still pay significant income taxes while your brother-in-law who collects $800,000 a year from a trust fund would pay zero in income taxes. Because he's a maker and you're a taker, I guess.

-- Everyone gets a tax cut!!, and as a consequence, the federal debt is projected to skyrocket by $11.3 trillion in the next decade, according to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice. That's over and above the $8 trillion increase already projected by the Congressional Budget Office. (The conservative Tax Foundation pegs the additional debt impact of the Rubio plan at a still hefty $4.4 trillion).

-- Everyone gets a tax cut!!, but according to the CTJ analysis, the highest earning 1 percent will enjoy 34 percent of the tax-cut benefits.

-- Everyone gets a tax cut!!, but even under the conservative Tax Foundation analysis, those in the top 1 percent would see an 11.5 percent increase in after-tax income. For comparison's sake, those in the middle class -- households with incomes of roughly $40,000 to $90,000 -- would on average see an after-tax income increase of 1.57 percent.  When calculated in real dollars, as the CTJ does, the imbalance is even larger.  Households with an income of $50,000 would get a tax break of $2,859. The top 1 percent -- with an average income of $1.7 million -- would see a benefit of $223,783,¹ or roughly 78 times as much as the middle-income household. It's no wonder that the billionaires are rallying around Rubio.

-- While everyone gets a tax cut!!, because apparently we can afford it, here's what we can't afford any longer: programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, ObamaCare, Medicare, student loans and food stamps. As Rubio told Maria Bartiroma over the weekend, "We have to also do entitlement reform. We have to reform Medicare and Social Security. That is the long-term driver of our debt."

And by "entitlement reform" to reduce the debt, he means significant cuts in spending and benefits. It's a pleasant-sounding euphemism for efforts to slash hundreds of billions from those programs.

But here's the thing that really gets me. In his interview with Bartiroma, as in his previous debate performances, Rubio spoke with apparent sincerity about the struggles of working-class and middle-class Americans:

"In America we tell people, it doesn't matter where you started out or what your parents did for a living, if you work hard and you persevere, you can get ahead and improve your life. And that's what I fear we're losing. That perhaps is the most important issue we confront economically in this country is that more and more people are starting to believe that that, that upward mobility, what we call the American dream, is not going to be possible for them. And if we lose that, we stop being a special country."

I'm sure he'll make a similar statement tonight. Yet faced with an admittedly new and frightening economic circumstance, Rubio proposes an exaggerated version of the very same placebos the GOP has advocated for at least the past half-century. It's the same tax-cut-based program implemented by President George W. Bush to such astounding success that when he left office, we had fewer Americans working in private industry than when he was inaugurated eight years earlier.

I just don't get it.


¹Put another way, the average tax savings for the richest 1 percent under the Rubio plan would be more than the total income for some 95 percent of American households.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.