While Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has yet to provide a detailed economic plan, her controversial tenure as CEO at Hewlett-Packard from 1999-2005 as well as statements she's made on the campaign trail paint a picture of what the U.S. economy would look like with Fiorina in the White House.
Her main targets -- should she win the Republican primary, the 2016 general election and convince Congress to back her -- appear to be a complex tax code, laws with cumbersome regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act and Obamacare, and crony capitalism.
Achieving all three may be a challenge for Fiorina, who has had difficulty maintaining her popularity even after dabbling in politics and serving as an economic advisor to John McCain since her ousting from Hewlett-Packard in 2005.
Fiorina's performance during the second Republican presidential debate in September impressed many viewers, and for a short time she ranked behind only Donald Trump and Ben Carson in Republican candidate polls in Iowa. Since then, she has slipped to sixth place. In addition to Trump and Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush are now ahead of her, according to data compiled by RealClearPolitics.
"What her team has to do is if she has that opportunity again -- and I think she will -- they have to maximize that time over the next 30 days to keep her in the narrative," said Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman.
However, Ben Shapiro, editor-at large of conservative news and opinion site Breitbart.com offers a less optimistic view of Fiorina's chances.
"She's so smooth, she feels like a career politician," Shapiro said. "You get the feeling with her that it's just not fun."
Fiorina's impressive on-stage performance, Shapiro said, could be partly to blame for her subsequent decline in polls. By his measure, candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson make comments that are either zeros or tens. Both guarantee headlines, while Fiorina's poised and consistent delivery makes her a solid eight -- and less likely to garner headlines.
"Politics is a fact-free zone," Fiorina said during an event filmed by MSNBC this summer. "People just say things. Business is a fact-filled zone. As chief executive of HP, I had to stand every 90 days and defend our results in excruciating detail and if I misrepresented those results in any way, I could be held criminally liable."
When it comes to scrutinizing Fiorina, I may be among the first in line. She's the only woman I know outside my family who shares my first name, "Carleton," and because of that, I've been following her since she became CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Does her name offer any indication of what she'd be like as president? It has both Anglo-Saxon and Norse origins and can mean "free men's town," which has patriotic overtones in the U.S., or "peasants' settlement," which doesn't -- and which also lacks the upwardly mobile connotations that we Americans love.
Despite evidence to the contrary (see: Trump), there's more to the politics than name-calling. Policies matter, too.
Fiorina has yet to provide the same level of detail on her political positions as she did on her balance sheet as CEO of HP, nor have they been subject to the same scrutiny. Following is an analysis of the economic views she has expressed so far, some of which may be developed further during the Republican debate on Wednesday.
Lower Every Tax Rate, Close Every Loophole
The crux of Fiorina's economic plan so far is reducing the 70,000-page U.S. tax code to 3 pages, but unlike her rivals, she has yet to say how many tax brackets she would have and what the rates would be. Trump, for example, said he plans to lower the number of brackets from seven to four and that the new rates would be 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%.
"Most of these deductions, loopholes and complexities actually benefit the wealthy, the powerful, the well-connected," Fiorina said.
As a starting principle, "a lot of people would agree with that," said Joseph Cordes, an economics professor at George Washington University and former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "What people are fighting, however, is once you get beyond the general principle, it's very hard to figure out exactly how the details of that might work."
During an appearance on Fox News with Sean Hannity, Fiorina proposed a three-pronged attack to meet her goal.
First, she would not fill jobs in the federal government that are vacated by retiring Baby Boomers. By her estimate, that would eliminate tens of thousands of taxpayer-supported federal government salaries. It sounds great on the campaign stump, but considering that the 2014 budget was more than $3 trillion dollars, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs is unlikely to make much of a difference.
Data provided by the Office of Personnel Management showed that the average government salary was $80,564 in 2014 and that of the government's 1.8 million workers, 25% were over age of 55. If they all left the workforce immediately, the savings would be approximately $36 billion. However, retirement ages are creeping above 65, so the savings would actually be much smaller and spread over a longer time period.
Fiorina's second tactic is establishing zero-based budgeting, under which federal agencies could no longer assume the previous year's expenditures as a starting point for their spending plans and would have to justify programs from the ground up, potentially finding their entire operations on the chopping block each year.
Data about where cuts might occur and how much they might save have yet to be disclosed by Fiorina's team.
"You know what appropriations hearings are about?" Fiorina asked during a Fox news interview. "The rate of increase over the last year. And that's how, drifting along, we have increased the size and scope, and cost, complexity -- and ineptitude, frankly, of every single government agency."
Like many of her peers, Fiorina uses the image of a single mother subsisting on entitlement programs to illustrate her point about the inefficacy of government. While her phrasing is more politically correct, the concept is essentially a repackaging of the "welfare queen" meme of the 1970s and 1980s.
"We must disentangle people's lives from the webs of dependence that have been woven around them," Fiorina said during an interview in Iowa this summer. "You cannot discourage people from moving forward in their lives." She argues that people living on welfare and food stamps have little incentive to seek more gainful employment since taking a job would mean a loss of benefits.
It's a notion has been has been rebutted many times, however, most recently from data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013.
To her credit, Fiorina shows equal disdain for the loopholes utilized by big businesses and wealthy individuals. But gauging the success of efforts to eliminate them -- and how much money that might save -- is difficult.
"The 'lower the rate, close the loopholes policy' has uneven impacts across U.S. business, so would have lots of losers along with the winners," said Joann Weiner, also an economist at George Washington University.
"If you cut the tax, every corporation benefits in theory, paying 25% instead of 35%," Weiner said. However, when it comes to closing loopholes, the benefits will not be felt the same way across industries.
For example, businesses that benefit from accelerated depreciation, such as capital-intensive companies like Caterpillar, will lose that benefit while a company like Google sees no net effect. While the tax code may be simpler, companies that lose benefits would be unlikely to endorse it.
"The economic benefits of having a better and simpler federal income tax system, while real, would not exactly be enormous," Cordes said. "These feedback effects that people sometimes like to claim for these things are often overstated."
Fix Ineffective Wall Street Regulation
Instead of making Wall Street safe for Main Street, Fiorina argues that the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 has caused the closing of 1,500 community banks and the concentration of 10 "too big to fail" banks into five.
If elected, there is little doubt that Fiorina would look for ways to chip away at the mammoth bill, which was created in response to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. In fact, it is quite possible that she would seek to eliminate the law entirely.
Republicans "will substantially diminish [Dodd-Frank]," former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat, told TheStreet, "They would cut the appropriations badly for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. They would appoint a weak administrator to the Consumer Bureau and just not fund it well."
Fiorina, though, argues that many Wall Street watchdog agencies existed prior to Dodd-Frank and the financial crisis but were asleep at the wheel.
"Let's start by making sure that the 26 regulatory agencies that were supposed to be overseeing the financial system, that were supposed to be predicting the financial crisis -- 26 of them all missed it,"
Fiorina said to The Hill in April.
It would be tough to say what Wall Street would look like without Dodd-Frank, as critics of the bill have said both that it didn't get to the heart of what caused the crisis and that its provisions may not prevent another one. Claims that Wall Street behavior would return to the excesses of 2007 without it may be unfounded -- in the short term, at least -- since banks have paid substantial amounts to various regulatory bodies for their roles in reating the crisis.
Fiorina has argued that Obamacare -- intended to make health insurance more accessible to low-income residents -- has only made health insurance companies more powerful, in party by spurring mergers. Because the laws were written with the input of many health professionals and insurance providers, Fiorina argues that the relationship between the government and private insurers has never been cozier.
Given the relatively short period that Obamacare has been operational, the effects of a repeal might be less devastating than if people had been relying on it for decades.
A majority of the Supreme Court, however, feared the worst. In reviewing unclear language in the draft of Obamacare this summer, the Supreme Court found that unwinding the law would "destabilize the individual insurance market in any state with a federal exchange, and likely create the very 'death spirals' that Congress designed the Act to avoid."
In a "death spiral," people wait to buy insurance until they're sick, which drives up costs for companies that lack the benefit of premiums collected when the customer was healthy. That ultimately makes insurance more expensive for everyone and prompts healthy people to forego it, while the critically ill are treated at taxpayer expense.
End Crony Capitalism
Fiorina has consistently said that the relationship between big business and government is too close. In a remarkable show of self-awareness, she acknowledged that during her time at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, she could exert influence over the political process to block proposed regulations that might hurt her business.
Meanwhile, Fiorina says, small businesses lack the structural and financial resources to navigate and influence the political process.
It's unlikely she'll be able to alter that status quo significantly if she gets elected, however. Cronyism is as old as business and politics.
Notwithstanding criticisms of crony capitalism, Fiorina already has a Super-PAC named after her. While campaign finance laws can make it difficult to determine a political action committee's goals, it doesn't take much guesswork to determine who's benefiting from "CARLY for America" -- a convenient acronym for "Conservative, Authentic, Responsive Leadership for You."
In total, the U.S. economy with Fiorina in the White House might look a bit like it did during George W. Bush's second term, although the mix of winners and losers might be different.
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