On Sunday's morning public affairs shows, both Republican Senate candidates Carly Fiorina in California and Ken Buck in Colorado struggled to give specifics about how they would reduce the deficit while also supporting expensive extensions of the Bush tax cuts. Although journalists ask Republicans this question almost without fail in debates and interviews, candidates and lawmakers still consistently stumble over it.
On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace told Fiorina that he hadn't "gotten many specifics" from her and said, "So now, as a non-career politician, as the anti-Barbara Boxer, you tell me specifically what are you going to do to cut the billions, the trillions, of dollars in entitlements?" Fiorina replied by blasting talk of a value-added tax, but Wallace interrupted her and again asked her whether she would cut entitlements. The result was a lengthy exchange in which Fiorina accused Wallace of asking her a "political question" and coming up with no answers other than cutting "waste" and saying "we ought to engage in a long conversation with the American people so they understand the choices":
FIORINA: See, Chris, I have to -- you know, Chris, I have to say, with all due respect, you're asking a typical political question. [...]
WALLACE: Ms. Fiorina, but that's where the money is. The money is in Medicare. The money is in Social Security. We've got the baby boomers coming. There is going to be a huge explosion of entitlement spending, and you call it a political question when I ask you to name one single entitlement expenditure you're willing to cut.
FIORINA: Chris, I believe that to deal with entitlement reform, which we must deal with, we ought to put every possible solution up on the table, except we should be very clear that we are not going to cut benefits to those nearing retirement or those in retirement.
But having said all of that, for years and years, career politicians, frankly, of both parties have said, Oh, no, the only way to cut spending is to deal with entitlements. It's the political third rail. And then they never get about the business of cutting out waste and inefficiency. They never get to the point of banning earmarks.
WALLACE: But we've been talking about waste, fraud and inefficiency --
FIORINA: Exactly. Exactly.
WALLACE: -- for 30 years. I covered Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he talked about it. There isn't that kind of money in waste, fraud, and inefficiency.
FIORINA: But you know what, Chris? The budget just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And every year as it gets bigger, particularly in the last two, there is more waste, fraud and inefficiency. And you're right, nobody ever gets around to it. It's why voters in California and, I believe, a lot of voters all across the country are tired of career politicians. [...]
WALLACE: I'm going to try -- I'm going to try one last time and if you don't want to answer it, Ms. Fiorina, you don't have to. [...] You're not willing to put forward a single benefit -- I'm not even talking about the people that are 60 or, let alone, 65 or 70. I'm talking about people under 55.
You're not willing to say there's a single benefit eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security that you're willing to say, Yeah, I would cut that?
FIORINA: What I think we need to do to engage the American people in a conversation about entitlement reform is to have a bipartisan group of people who come together and put every solution on the table, every alternative on the table. And then we ought to engage in a long conversation with the American people so they understand the choices. Instead of rushing off into a closed room and having 100 senators figure it out for themselves, we need to engage people in the conversation. And I'm willing to consider any alternative. But we cannot continue to just jump over the fact that our government is bloated, wasteful, inefficient, in many cases inept and, frankly, in many cases as well corrupt. We have to deal with that.
On "Meet the Press," Buck said that he disagreed with Republican leaders who say that tax cuts don't have to be paid for. For example, on Oct. 3, Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul said that he didn't see extending the Bush tax cuts as "a cost to government."
But when host David Gregory followed up and asked Buck to say how he would lower the deficit if extending the Bush tax cuts will cost $700 billion, Buck simply replied that the "bigger question" is how families will "pay for the money that they've got to send to the federal government."
Gregory continued to press him, and Buck said he would pay for them by "cutting spending" and "growing government" -- without any specifics. Democrat Michael Bennet, who supports extending all the Bush tax cuts for one year, replied, "This same thing that Ken is saying right now is what the Bush administration said when it created these tax cuts to begin with, and what we saw is the first period of economic growth in our country's history when middle-class income health."
"You grow government because as people have more money, they spend the money, and government grows," said Buck. "When we put people back to work, the government grows, we increase revenue, and we decrease unemployment benefits." Only when Bennet said that he's "not interested in growing government" did Buck realize his rhetorical error and say that he meant "growing the economy" -- not government.
This debate is playing out on the state level as well. In a recent interview with The New York Times, California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman said that she won't need to raise taxes at all in order to close the state's deficit. "You can close a $19 billion budget deficit simply by cutting spending?" asked reporter John Harwood. "And growing the economy," replied Whitman.