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GOP debate: Talking economics in Detroit

November 9, 2011 |  4:42 pm
GOP-Debate-Nov. 9Republican presidential candidates return Wednesday to debating the one topic that voters care most about, the lackluster U.S. economy. They took up this issue Oct. 11 at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, a state whose unemployment rate is barely higher than what most states see in good times. The new setting is Detroit, where the unemployment rate (12.7%) is more than twice New Hampshire's. The city's concerns about the economy are less theoretical and more personal.

But Detroit has also come to epitomize the government's power to prevent things from getting much, much worse. Had the Bush and Obama administrations not kept General Motors and Chrysler from going into liquidation -- a very real possibility, given that banks weren't lining up to lend them the money needed to reorganize through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy -- tens of thousands of auto industry workers would have lost their jobs, many of them in Michigan.

As my colleague Doyle McManus has noted, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney opposed the bailout for the automakers, but he's hardly the only one in the field who took that position. It's a common position among conservatives, who argue that the industry would be better off had the weaker automakers been allowed to fail, freeing up resources for their more productive competitors. It's a good bet that the candidtes will have the chance to explain their stances at the debate.

Since the last debate about the economy, the debt problems in Europe have worsened. That's an opening for the professorial former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, to remind the audience how much more sophisticated his understanding of global finance is than the average candidate's. But it may be a race among the candidates to see who can be the first to liken the federal government's deficit problem to Italy, the new poster child for sovereign debt.

One other issue that's developed since the last debate is the struggles of the congressional "super committee" to reach a deal on how to pare at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget deficit over the coming decade. The price of failure is extremely high -- deep across-the-board cuts in defense and social programs -- but so, apparently, is the likelihood of failure. The candidates have largely avoided commenting on the super committee's work, but now would be a good time to opine.


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-- Jon Healey

Eight Republican presidential candidates will face off again Wednesday night in an economy-themed debate in Michigan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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