Presidential debate round-up: Tax, trade and healthcare

The White House
Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

12 October 2016

On Sunday night, 9 October, presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) met for their second debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Many issues concern Americans about this next election, including whether each candidate has the demeanour to be president, how each will work to combat terrorism, how to fix healthcare, and what each will do to help the economy grow.

Between scathing personal attacks, both candidates did cover more relevant topics such as trade, healthcare, tax policy and energy.


Trump started by discussing the “inconceivable” $800 billion trade deficit that the US has amassed.

(NPR reports that the 2015 foreign trade deficit was $531.5 billion and not $800 billion and that the country has had trade deficits since 1976 mostly because of large imports of oil and low-cost consumer products.)

Trump doesn’t think the US has made fair trade deals in the past and promised that the country would make great deals under his presidency, but provided little detail as to what these deals would be.

(NPR reports that outside economists are not convinced that Trump’s trade policy that would boost federal revenue by $1.7 billion over the next ten years would offset revenue from Trump’s proposed tax cuts. The pro-trade Peterson Institute for International Economics believes that Trump’s proposal of steep tariffs on imports from China and Mexico would begin a trade war and drive the economy into another recession.)


The candidates discussed Obamacare, which has contributed to the deficit. Clinton promised to rework the current legislation rather than start from scratch as there are provisions that help Americans.

She agreed that Obamacare doesn’t work as well as it could. “And I’m going to fix it, because I agree with you,” she says. “Premiums have gotten too high. Co-pays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and I’ve laid out a series of actions that we can take to try to get those costs down.”

Trump’s issue with healthcare in the US is that trying to fix Obamacare will require more money, which could very well boost the almost $20 trillion deficit.


Image credit: txking /

“Obamacare will never work,” he said. “It’s very bad, very bad health insurance. Far too expensive. And not only expensive for the person that has it, unbelievably expensive for our country. It’s going to be one of the biggest line items very shortly.”

Trump believes that Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced with something less expensive that works, where plans can be tailored.

He believes that Clinton’s single-payer plan would be a “total disaster”, and he intends to make health insurance competitive. (USA Today reports that Trump’s claim that Clinton wants to implement a government-run, “single-payer,” health care system is wrong.)


The conversation eventually moved onto taxes, with Trump saying he would eliminate carried interest and lower taxes.

“I think it’s so important for corporations, because we have corporations leaving — massive corporations and little ones, little ones can’t form,” he says. “We’re getting rid of regulations which goes hand in hand with the lowering of the taxes.”

He also proposed lowering the tax rate from 35% to 15% and cutting taxes for the middle class. “And I will tell you, we are cutting them big league for the middle class,” he said.

Clinton responded by talking about how Trump’s plan would help Trump. “His plan will give the wealthy and corporations the biggest tax cuts they’ve ever had, more than the Bush tax cuts by at least a factor of two,” she says.

She proposed not increasing taxes for anyone earning more than $250,000 and to raise taxes on higher-income earners that include a surcharge on those earning more than $5 million. “And the money is with people who have taken advantage of every single break in the tax code,” she says.

(NPR reports that the Tax Foundation estimates that Trump’s plan would reduce federal revenue $5.9 trillion, which is a $4.4 trillion decrease, over the next decade. This could offset economic growth. The wealthy would benefit the most from Trump’s plan, while Clinton proposal focuses on higher taxes for the wealthy.)

Personal tax policies were at the forefront of the debate for a moment because three pages of Trump’s 1995 tax returns were released. In these three pages, there was a $916 million loss that helped Trump avoid paying income taxes for years, which he admitted to.


The discussion eventually moved on to energy policy. “We are killing — absolutely killing our energy business in this country,” said Trump. “Now, I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, et cetera. But we need much more than wind and solar.” He talked about how natural gas was a tremendous wealth right under our feet, which is important considering the $20 trillion deficit.

Trump will look to bring back the country’s energy companies so that the country can compete. These companies will also help to generate jobs and pay off the country’s national debt.

Clean energy

Clinton mentioned the country’s natural gas production, “which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels,” she said. “And I think that’s an important transition.”

She’s a proponent of clean, renewable energy, but she also recognized that the country can’t ignore coal workers. “I don’t want to walk away from them,” she said. “So we’ve got to do something for them.”

(NPR reports that the coal industry is having problems because it can’t compete with cheaper natural gas. Coal companies borrowed money to become competitive in other countries and when that didn’t happen, the price of coal dropped.)

A break from the bickering

As the debate came to a close, audience member Karl Becker asked, “regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Clinton talked about Trump’s children. “His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald,” she said.

Trump complimented Clinton on her tenacity. “She doesn’t quit,” he said. “She doesn’t give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She’s a fighter.”

Figuring out which candidate performed best is still up for debate, but many Americans believe Becker is the real winner. During such a contentious election, he has been one of the few to humanise the candidates.

About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital,, and


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