The 2016 Presidential Debates Could Become a Slugfest

The 2016 Presidential Debates Could Become a Slugfest

iStockphoto/Library of Congress/The Fiscal Times
By Eric Pianin

Few could doubt the impact of nationally televised presidential debates after Republican Mitt Romney set President Obama back on his heels in their first encounter in October 2012.

Romney was articulate and aggressive while Obama appeared frazzled and very much off his game. Romney’s commanding performance helped the former Massachusetts governor briefly energize his floundering campaign and regain its momentum.

Related: Clinton Plays the Gender Card as a Campaign Strategy -  

Moreover, with home viewership topping 67 million, the debate -- moderated by Jim Lehrer, the former news anchor for the PBS News Hour – broke a 32-year gross viewership record dating back to the first debate between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Yet amid dramatic changes in political campaign tactics and fundraising and the way Americans consume the news, these televised general election presidential debates actually are suffering from diminished reach.

A new study issued on Wednesday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania seemed to compare presidential debates to TV entertainment. Their assessment: the more than two-decade old debate format is to blame for the low viewership among millennials, although baby boomer viewers have increased.

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So what to do?  In an era when large audiences pay far more attention to “Game of Thrones,” “House of Cards,” “Master Chef” and “So You Think You Can Dance” than to increasingly lengthy presidential campaign seasons,  how can the political parties and the National Presidential Debate Commission jazz up the debates to attract and keep a wider audience?

The Annenberg panel, of course, stops well short of recommending the equivalent of no-holds barred political mudwrestling to heighten audience engagement and sustained interest. The goal, the group says, is to expand and enrich debate content and produce a better informed group of voters.

To that end, the advisory group appears anxious to get rid of the moderator or middle man as much as possible and allow the two candidates to set the agenda and duke it out. They want to get rid of the one or more prominent journalists who set the ground rules and determine the pace and course of the evening’s discussion.

Related: GOP Prunes the 2016 Primary Debates Down to Nine

If, for example, Hillary Clinton were to slam, say, Marco Rubio in a debate, Rubio shouldn’t have to wait patiently for his opportunity to reply but should be allowed to jump in with a rejoinder. Think of it as the resurrection of CNN’s Crossfire.

To add a smidgeon of Jeopardy to the proceedings, each candidate would have a total of 45 minutes to spend to make their case or defend it.

While the candidates would have plenty of opportunity to get their political messages across, they would also have to respond quickly to attacks. A well-scripted candidate wouldn’t necessarily do well in that setting, and the possibility of “oops” moments would be increased. Welcome to reality TV, Beltway style.

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Ah….but dead air is not an option, so a filibuster is off the table. No answer, rebuttal or question could exceed three minutes, according to the panel. When a candidate runs out of total time, he or she has exhausted the right to speak. Remaining time at the end of the moderator-posed topics can be used for a closing statement.

The recommendations are advisory only and it will be up to the presidential debate commission and the national parties to iron out the final ground rules next year.

Chart of the Day: Drug Price Plans Compared

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Increasing Number of Americans Delay Medical Care Due to Cost: Gallup

By The Fiscal Times Staff

From Gallup: “A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup's trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.”

Number of the Day: $213 Million

A security camera hangs near a corner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington
Jonathan Ernst
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much the private debt collection program at the IRS collected in the 2019 fiscal year. In the black for the second year in a row, the program cleared nearly $148 million after commissions and administrative costs.

The controversial program, which empowers private firms to go after delinquent taxpayers, began in 2004 and ran for five years before the IRS ended it following a review. It was restarted in 2015 and ran at a loss for the next two years.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who played a central role in establishing the program, said Monday that the net proceeds are currently being used to hire 200 special compliance personnel at the IRS.

US Deficit Up 12% to $342 Billion for First Two Months of Fiscal 2020: CBO

District of Columbia
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The federal budget deficit for October and November was $342 billion, up $36 billion or 12% from the same period last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated on Monday. Revenues were up 3% while outlays rose by 6%, CBO said.