Republicans Can't Just Ignore Economic Inequality

by Joseph D. Lyons

After being largely ignored during the first two Republican debates, the economy is set to take center stage at Wednesday's CNBC-monitored debate. The business channel has said it will focus on the "key issues that matter to all voters — job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy." It seems the Republicans are a bit behind on the game in this regard as the Democrats have already been talking about one key aspect of the country's economic standing and outlook: inequality. While not entirely the fault of the candidates — they don't ask the questions, after all — voters need to see during the debate where Republicans stand on fighting economic inequality.

In September, the government released some numbers about poverty and income. Almost 15 percent of the population, some 47.7 million Americans, live in poverty, about the same as the year before — and the median household income didn't budge, either. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent continues to prosper. From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent saw their income grow 201 percent compared to the rest of the nation's 19 percent. Some economists even argue that inequality is causing slower growth for the economy as a whole. Given these facts, Republicans must be questioned about how they would solve this ever-growing problem.

Lots of economic policies play into this problem and its solution will center around lots of policy changes, tweaks and 180s. Tax reform, job creation through infrastructure spending, a minimum wage increase and other policy solutions have all been advocated by Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both spoke big on the issue in the first Democratic debate, but so far only some very preliminary discussion on taxes and a minimum wage have come up at Republican debates.

When related policies have come up, it seems like the candidates are advocating for further inequality — not attempting to decrease it. At the September debate, taxes were a dividing line between some candidates. At the Republican debate in September, both Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson advocated for a flat tax, which would see tax rates reduced on the wealthy (and potentially increased on the poor). Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said we should switch to a consumption tax, which would be like a larger sales tax instead of taxing income. The poor would end up paying a much larger percentage of their income than the wealthy since they spend more on basic needs.

In a momentary alternate universe, only business mogul Donald Trump advocated a true progressive tax plan. He even critiqued investors who pay little-to-no taxes, calling it "unfair." In what world is Trump the candidate who is speaking some sense?

The other issue on the table last month was a minimum wage increase. Carson, the ying to Trump's crazy yang, was the only one to advocate a raise. Not seeing the irony given his view on taxes, he said a reasonable increase could be negotiated and should be tied to inflation to avoid the subject in future political debates. Former candidate Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, disagreed. No one else offered an alternative solution to bringing up wages.

Some Republicans spoke on the issue back in January. Candidate Jeb Bush even has framed his political action committee around the idea. Right to Rise is supporting his candidacy but frames its purpose around helping people "right to move up the income ladder." However, the policy it supports, like his tax plan, do more for the rich than the poor; hence the need to debate the policy proposals that can tackle this problem.

When comparing the discord over somewhat meager solutions, the Democrats look a lot better — they at least have proposals. Given that 53 percent of Republican voters think that only the people at the top are getting ahead, the debates should address the issue.