Political Aptitude Test

May 24, 1996


See The Answer


Which issue is most likely to pay off for Republicans...

By Bill Schneider/CNN

LOS ANGELES (May 23) -- Sen. Robert Dole, soon to be Citizen Dole, needs some issues for his campaign. Our question this week asks, which issue is most likely likely to pay off for the Republicans this year?

  1. Abortion
  2. A Tax Cut
  3. Free Trade
  4. Deficit Reduction
  5. Welfare Reform

      The answer is B, a tax cut.

      It certainly isn't abortion. If Dole brings up abortion, he'll split the Republican party wide open. And it's not free trade. If he runs on free trade, he'll provoke the Buchananites and Perot supporters.

      Welfare reform has always been a good Republican issue, but President Bill Clinton has co-opted it.

      The big choice for Republicans is between deficit reduction and a tax cut. Everyone believes reducing the deficit is important, but everyone also believes something else is more important.

      For Democrats, maintaining public investment is more important. For Republicans, cutting taxes is more important. For voters, protecting safety net programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare is more important. That is why no one has ever managed to turn deficit reduction into a winning political issue.

      The annual budget deficit went up under President Ronald Reagan, and his popularity soared. The deficit went down under President Clinton but that didn't help the Democrats in 1994.

      Congressional Republicans have said again and again that they make painful cuts in government spending in order to reduce the debt burden on future generations. The voters haven't exactly responded with cheers.

      Republicans must reclaim the vast constituency of middle class suburban voters, and taxes has always been the key to those voters hearts. Cut their taxes, and they'll follow you anywhere.

      CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno:

      But if Republicans promise a big tax cut, won't that destroy their credibility on deficit reduction?

      Schneider: That's the risk. But tax cut advocates argue, first, that they pay for a tax cut by cutting non-essential government spending without cutting important programs.

      And second, they argue a tax cut will generate more economic growth, therefore more tax revenue. So the deficit will go down.

      It's just like some Democrats argue that more public spending on what they call investment programs will make the economy more productive, so the economy will grow, tax revenues go up and the deficit will go down.

      None of these theories have ever been proven, but they make it easy for politicians to promise voters what they want and pretend that somehow, miraculously, the deficit will go down. You can go a long way in politics if you believe in miracles.

      This analysis originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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