After failing miserably to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have set their sights on tax reform, confident that if there's one thing the party can agree on, it's tax cuts for the rich. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has even suggested the "markets may tank” should the government fail to provide financial relief for the people who need it least.
Against this backdrop, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a town hall Wednesday night to debate not just the benefit of tax reform, but the very function of federal government. While Cruz trotted out his tired and oft-debunked talking points about the benefits of trickle-down economics, Sanders forcefully explained how the GOP tax plan hurts the middle class, reminding us again why he's an early Democratic frontrunner for 2020.
Here are eight of the Vermont senator’s best lines from their showdown on CNN.
1. On past tax cut plans.
"In two minutes, Senator Cruz is going to tell you that if we give tax breaks to the billionaires like George W. Bush did, like Ronald Reagan did, we're going to create zillions of jobs and you're all going to become very, very rich, that we have a trickle-down economic theory, tax breaks for the wealthiest people, the largest corporations, and, whoa, everything is good. That is a totally fraudulent theory."
2. On the Kochs' support for tax cuts.
"Now, the Trump Republican tax proposal that's before us today, this proposal is being pushed by Senator Cruz's campaign contributors, some of the wealthiest people in this country, by the Koch brothers, who are worth $90 billion. Why are they pushing this agenda? Because 80 percent of the tax breaks in this proposal will go to the top 1 percent."
3. On the Bush tax cuts.
"Under President Bush, he did it. He gave tax breaks. And you know what happened? He gave tax breaks to the rich. And you know what happened? We lost 500,000 private sector jobs, and the national debt almost doubled under Bush."
4. On the long-term effects of the Reagan tax cuts.
"So this idea—of giving tax breaks to large corporations—is basically a fraud. Listen to what Ronald Reagan's domestic policy advisor Bruce Bartlett said. He said that virtually every Republican, what every Republican says about taxes today, is a lie. Reagan's OMB director David Stockman said that the idea that closing loopholes and adding growth will pay for trillions in cuts, quote, 'is just completely fanciful and irresponsible.'"
5. On his alternative tax plan.
"I happen to believe that if you want to really get the economy moving, you do things like raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, put money into the hands of working people, provide targeted tax breaks to small businesses and working people, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, creating 15 million jobs."
6. On so-called 'deficit hawks.'
"Now, Ted, I gather you are a big deficit hawk, yeah? How did you vote on the authorization bill for the Department of Defense which increased military spending by, if I'm not mistaken, $700 billion, so that we are now spending more on the military than the next 12 nations combined? Check—correct me if I'm wrong, Ted—I think you voted for that huge increase in military spending. I think that at a time when we have people working two or three jobs trying to make ends meet, where kids can't afford to go to college and are leaving school deeply in debt, I happen not to think that spending $70 billion more on the military and giving a huge boondoggle to the military industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about, I happen to think that was not a good idea."
7. On Ted Cruz's ulterior motives.
"Let's examine what Senator Cruz really wants to do. He wants to see legislation passed that would give $1.9 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1 percent, significantly increase the national debt being passed on to our kids and our grandchildren. And in order to pay for these tax breaks for billionaires, he wants to throw 15 million people off of Medicaid, cut Medicare by over $450 billion, cut Pell Grants, cut programs like the WIC program, women, infant and children program, designed for low-income pregnant women and their little babies."
8. On tax structures in Scandinavia.
"Second point that I want to make, Ted, you said earlier—two points that I want to make here. Number one, we can have a debate about whether you like what's going on in Denmark or not. Don't compare Denmark to Cuba. Don't compare Denmark to communist countries. Denmark has a higher voter turnout rate than we do. They're a vigorous democracy, as are other Scandinavian countries."