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Candidate case study: Looking for straight answers from McFadden

U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden talks about issues, but fails to give concrete policy details.

McFadden continued during the Brucato interview to deprive his would-be constituents of clear, straight answers on policy, nor does he do much to differentiate himself from his opponents for the Republican nomination.
McFadden for Senate

Kudos to MinnPost teammate Cyndy Brucato for her interview with U.S. Senate GOP candidate Mike McFadden. She asked nothing but substantive questions designed to elicit his concrete policy views. As regular readers of this space know, McFadden has been stingy with concrete policy details (although he is making far more public appearances).

Kudos to McFadden for granting Brucato 30 minutes or so, and for discussing several issue areas. With apologies in advance that I am not grading him on the curve, I would say McFadden continued during the Brucato interview to deprive his would-be constituents of clear, straight answers on policy, nor does he do much to differentiate himself from his opponents for the Republican nomination nor even from Sen. Al Franken, whom he hopes to face in November.

When asked why he is running for the Senate, McFadden often begins his answer with “because we can do better.” Well, sure, everyone can always do better. But other than inviting people to think about their grievances with “Washington” and blame them on Franken/Democrats/Obamacare, what is McFadden promising to do, specifically, that would be better, and for whom?

When I say that I am not grading him on the curve, I mean that I am so fed up with the general eyewash from candidates who bravely endorse deficit reduction (without specifying the actual spending cuts and/or tax increases that would be required) and a theoretical indescribable replacement for Obamacare that would be better for everyone and cost less. There are lots of equivalent non-specific positions, and McFadden has adopted many of them.

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For the sake of clarifying the difference between a policy position and the ol’ grip-and-grin-and-tickle-and-run, let’s just put the first McFadden-Brucato exchange under the microscope. She asked about the Dave Camp tax-reform plan. Rep. Camp of Michigan, Republican chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, recently committed the brave and apparently hopeless act of publishing a comprehensive tax-reform plan that could actually be scored. Camp’s proposal specified what the new (lower) marginal rates would be and the many special tax breaks that would have to be eliminated to offset the lower rates.

And that is part of the problem. People whose rates would be lowered liked that part of the plan, but when they noticed that many credits and deductions that kept their taxes much lower would be eliminated, they didn’t like that part. Any such detailed plan is going to create winners and losers. Camp offered enough detail that some of the losers could figure out who they are.

Now here is the Brucato-McFadden exchange. As you read it ask yourself: Did McFadden say that he was for the Camp plan? (I can’t find it.) Against it? (Same answer.) He favors the idea of cutting rates and offsetting that by eliminating some, maybe even a huge portion, maybe almost all, of the credits and deductions. But he doesn’t embrace the elimination of a single one.

He says the plan should be “revenue-neutral” because of the big federal debt that he mentions regularly. But wait a minute: Revenue neutral means it raises the same amount of revenue as the old system, so it doesn’t actually change the debt picture.

He calls for a bipartisan process, which sounds excellent except that it doesn’t pass the laugh test given the partisan gridlock. Perhaps he has some ideas for tax provisions that would attract Democratic support. If so, he doesn’t find time to mention any. He bravely endorses “simplicity” and “transparency,” boldly risking the ire of those who think the tax code should be more complicated and obscure.

If you have any inclination to check my work, and haven’t yet memorized the Brucato-McFadden exchanges, here’s the first one:

MinnPost: What did you think of Congressman Dave Camp’s tax plan — it eliminates write-offs and lowers the overall rates — and how does this compare to your concept of tax reform?

Mike McFadden: I think there’s a huge opportunity to sit down and really make some dramatic improvements here.

It shouldn’t be a partisan issue; it should be bipartisan. Sitting across the table with like-minded Democrats and say, “Let’s agree it’s going to be revenue-neutral,” because we’ve got $17 trillion of debt that we have to address.

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But we can all agree that we have something that’s much more simple and much more transparent. Every economist will tell you that we’ll see economic growth from that, because it’s just more efficient.

Let’s sit down and talk about what that looks like. The 15,000 deductions; exemptions … I think you start with a white, blank sheet of paper and say, “This is the amount of money we need to run the government, here’s what we’re going to do. Here are the rates. What deductions or exemptions do we absolutely need and why?”