Wednesday night Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders debated tax reform on CNN. There were no knockouts last night, but there was a sharp contrast between two very different worldviews. Senator Cruz opened the debate with a one-minute statement predicting that Bernie Sanders would call for higher taxes on the rich. But Cruz then pointed out that there aren’t nearly enough rich out there to pay for all the “free” things Bernie wants to distribute.
“We could take every single person making a million dollars a year or more and confiscate 100% of their income, everything they make, every penny and it would raise about $1 Trillion dollars, about 8% of the cost of Bernie’s tax plan,” Cruz said. He added, “That means if you want tax revenue you don’t get it from the millionaires and billionaires, you get it from the middle class, you get it from the working men and women in this country.”
Bernie responded by attacking trickle-down economics and denouncing tax cuts for the wealthy. “It is a Robin Hood proposal in reverse,” Sanders said. “They are taking from working families and the poor and they are giving to the rich,” he said.
Cruz didn’t respond to that right away but about 10 minutes later he said, “In his opening, Bernie invoked Robin Hood and gotta say I think Bernie fundamentally misunderstood that story.” Cruz continued, “Robin Hood was robbing the tax collectors who were collecting too much taxes from the working men and women and taking it for the rich.
“In Bernie’s analogy, it is the Democrats who are King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood is saying tax collectors stop hammering people who are struggling, who are laboring in the fields who are working. Stop taking it to the castle to give out to your buddies.”
There was an interesting exchange about money in politics 20 minutes into the debate. Sanders criticized the GOP tax plan as an attempt to give tax breaks to wealthy donors, with a specific mention of the Koch brothers. Cruz responded by pointing out that 16 of the top 20 donors in the last election gave primarily to Democrats and that giving by the Koch brothers put them at #59 on the same list of donors. Sanders only comeback was to say “Uhh…” as if he wanted to rebut that but he didn’t actually do it.
Instead, the debate turned to jobs with Cruz saying, “the people like my dad, the struggling immigrants washing dishes, have lost their jobs” because of taxes and regulation. Sanders replied, “No, I don’t think that’s why they lost their jobs. They lost their jobs because, among other things, we have a corporate world who are prepared to shut down tens of thousands of factories in this country, to move to China, to move to Mexico, to move to other low-wage countries.”
At this point, Cruz interjected, “So if you raise their taxes do they do more of that or less?” Sanders didn’t answer that question.
Later in the debate, a person named Mark Hagar pointed out to Sen. Sanders that the GOP proposal would lower tax rates on small businesses like the one he owns. “Can you clarify for me how that’s disastrous?” Sanders said Hagar made a “good point” and suggested that he would support that specific change in the bill because he agreed there was a need to lower rates for small businesses. This led to an exchange with Cruise over why Sanders hadn’t proposed something like this in the tax plan he ran on last year.
“You and I both ran presidential campaigns. We both laid out our own tax plans,” Cruz said. He continued, “And so you don’t have to ask hypothetically ‘gosh, what tax plan might I support?’ because you campaigned on one and the tax plan that you campaigned on was a $13 trillion dollar tax increase. You didn’t cut taxes on small business when you had the chance, you jacked them up.”
In the final third of the debate, there was a more direct confrontation between Sanders’ socialism and Cruz’ free-market capitalism. A citizen of Denmark named Jacob Kirkegaard said he was sympathetic to some of Sanders proposals but noted that taxes in countries like Denmark were roughly double what they are in the United States. “These are countries that heavily tax everybody, not just the rich people, middle-classes, they have consumption taxes on everything of 20 percent,” Kirkegaard said. He added, “My sense is still that you would like to spend as a Scandinavian but not tax as one.”
In response, Sanders agreed several times that “nothing is free.” “I would suggest that the average American would rather pay $3,000 more in taxes and see a $5,000 premium to a private insurance company disappear,” Sanders said.
Cruz then seized on this saying, “We just witnessed a very important moment in this debate, which is that Bernie admitted that he wants to raise everyone’s taxes.”
A few minutes later CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out that Denmark paid the highest tax rate of all developed nations (the U.S. is #32 on the list) and asked Sanders, “Do you think Americans are ready for a big tax hike like that?” Sanders answered, “If we can have sensible discussions like this, yeah I think they will be.”
Here’s video of the full debate.