Wanna run for president? The Koch brothers have some questions for you, so get a pencil
There seems pretty general awareness -- certainly among the 2016 presidential wannabes -- that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, are likely to play a major role in arbitrating among the Republican contenders, with a view to getting the biggest bang for the presidential portion of the $889 million they and their network of like-minded contributors are already poised to dump into the 2016 elections. The Washington Post's James Hohmann has gotten hold of a four-section, 25-question "survey" distributed Thursday to "all of the declared and likely presidential candidates" by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, "the funding arm of the political network" backed by the Kochs.
For his piece, "Scoop: 25 questions the Koch brothers want every 2016 candidate to answer," James got confirmation of the authenticity of the four-page document, distributed to Democratic as well as Republican would-be candidates, from Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis, who "said the responses will be used to educate both members and the public at-large."
According to the introductory text, we learn from James, “The questions in this survey represent issues prioritized by our members.” It might have been interesting to know more about that "introductory text," but we do get the questions themselves. I was really curious about them, so let's go straight there.
OK, OK, HERE ARE THE QUESTIONS
Section 1: Expanding Opportunity for EveryoneOne immediate point to note, though James notes it rather far down in his survey of the questionnaire, is that it "is silent on social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, which are important to many Republican primary voters but much less so to Koch network participants."
Question #1: What specific policies would your administration pursue to create greater opportunity for all Americans?
Question #2: Do you believe too many activities are criminalized in America and, as a result, too many people are incarcerated? What criminal justice reforms would you support?
Question #3: Do you believe current federal prohibitions and policies used to fight drug abuse are working? If not, what would you change?
Question #4: Do you believe federal spending on education is insufficient?
Question #5: Do you believe some government programs or policies present barriers to opportunity for the poorest Americans? If so, which are the most destructive?
Question #6: How would your administration address rising health care costs?
Question #7: If repealed by the Supreme Court, would you support extending federal subsidies for health insurance in states without exchanges, even if it would extend individual and employer mandates?
Section 2: Combating Cronyism and Corporate Welfare
Question #8: Do you agree government mandates and subsidies distort the economy and allow certain individuals and corporations to profit at the expense of others?
Question #9: Do you support reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank?
Question #10: Do you support federal agricultural subsidies?
Question #11: Do you believe the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was necessary?
Question #12: Do you support the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)?
Question #13: Should tax reform eliminate all preferential treatment and credits for individuals, industries and activities in order to lower marginal tax rates?
Section 3: Restoring Fiscal Sustainability
Question #14: What is your plan to deal with the $18 trillion national debt and the more than $200 trillion unfunded liability burden facing the U.S.?
Question #15: As president, would you uphold the overall discretionary spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011?
Question #16: Do you believe the debt limit should be used to leverage federal spending reductions?
Question #17: Do you support increasing tax revenue in order to pay for infrastructure spending?
Question #18: Do you support Social Security and Medicare reform that would increase the age of eligibility and reduce benefits for wealthier retirees?
Question #19: Do you support expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act?
Question #20: Do you support capping federal spending on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by allowing states to control those funds in the form of federal grants?
Question #21: Do you support targeted federal spending or limited tax benefits to help spur economic growth within a particular industry or geographic area?
Section 4: Shaping Foreign Policy
Question #22: What criteria would you use to determine when to deploy U.S. armed forces overseas? For instance, should the military be used to address humanitarian crises abroad?
Question #23: Do you believe military intervention in Libya made America safer? Should the U.S. intervene in Syria and/or Ukraine?
Question #24: Should the U.S. use any means necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon even if it required the use of ground forces?
Question #25: Can current military spending be reduced without compromising national security?
As for the questions that are included, perhaps surprisingly, many -- maybe most -- seem pretty reasonable. "How would your administration address rising health care costs?," for example, or "Do you believe military intervention in Libya made America safer? Should the U.S. intervene in Syria and/or Ukraine?" -- these seem like questions we'd like to have answered by everyone seeking to occupy the Oval Office.
Of course the lurking evil isn't in the questions, but in the answer the Kochs are looking for. You'd have to be a pretty out-of-it GOP presidential wannabe to mistake a leading question like "Do you support Social Security and Medicare reform that would increase the age of eligibility and reduce benefits for wealthier retirees?" Only a chump would be fooled by seeing the phrases "reduce benefits" and "for wealthier" butted up against each other, and think maybe this is something he shouldn't be supporting. But answer "no" to this one and you'll likely be sent to knock on George Soros's door. One suspects the same fate awaits anyone who says "yes" to "Do you support increasing tax revenue in order to pay for infrastructure spending?"
But then, the "Restoring Fiscal Sustainability" section -- about which James doesn't seem to have anything to say -- is the most blatantly ideological of the questionnaire's four, although especially in the "Combating Cronyism and Corporate Welfare" section the correct answers are clearer if you know the questioners' slant. For these "do you support" questions you should be in head-shaking mode. James points out that the Kochs have a big hate for the Export-Import bank, and not much love for the other listed programs, like the federal renewable fuel standard, "which is big in Iowa but free-market devotees vigorously oppose." ("Do you support federal agricultural subsidies?" might not seem an easy question to answer with a simple "yes" or "no," and while these are presumably "essay"-type rather than "true-false" questions, it's not clear that the people reading the answers are terribly open to nuance.)
I suppose there are generous clues to correct answers elsewhere, for example: "Do you believe some government programs or policies present barriers to opportunity for the poorest Americans? If so, which are the most destructive?" But again, it helps to know who you're dealing with. "The brothers care passionately about criminal justice reform," he notes, "and have publicly complained that too many Americans are in jail. So it’s not a surprise that the candidates are asked to weigh in about the war on drugs."
James was surprised enough by the "heavy dose of foreign policy inquiries" to seek enlightenment.
Freedom Partners wants the candidates to spell out criteria for deploying U.S. troops, whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria and Ukraine, and how far the president should be willing to go in order to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and whether defense spending can be cut.It may be interesting to see what we ever hear of the candidate responses, bearing in mind James Davis's statement to James that "the responses will be used to educate both members and the public at-large."
Asked about these foreign policy questions, Davis explained: “We live in a global marketplace and are $18 trillion in debt; now more than ever, our economy, our jobs and opportunities for countless Americans are impacted by U.S. foreign policy decisions.”