Cornell Democrats and Republicans gathered on Tuesday to debate the role and size of the federal government and discuss key issues including the welfare state, taxation and civil liberties.
The Republicans opened the debate by talking about inefficiency in current and historical welfare programs, such as the War on Poverty, introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the more recent Affordable Care Act.
Cornell Republican Treasurer Michael Johns ’20 said that Obamacare’s individual mandate is an invasion on civil liberties that should not be allowed under the Constitution.
Johns said that after “50 years of failed policy,” the government should not be investing money in what he called endless, ineffective welfare programs.
“It’s possible that there are better ways in which we can spend the money,” Johns said. “But right now we are spending way more than what is necessary to help the people in need.”
The Democrats, on the other hand, argued that such welfare programs have not yet fulfilled the purposes of helping people in need, and thus require more funding from the government rather than a complete shut down simply due to the high cost.
“Programs such as food stamps, medicare and HomeChoice help low-income Americans stay afloat,” said Natalie Brown ’18, Cornell Democrats president. “We need to add further investments for it to work better — you can’t just end those efforts.”
The Republicans, while agreeing that the government carries the responsibility of helping working middle-class, proposed their own plan to eliminate estate taxes and cut corporate taxes to rejuvenate the market.
Cornell Republican President Austin McLaughlin ’18 said that American businesses are less competitive in the global market compared to countries like Canada or Germany, countries that have a lighter corporate tax rates.
McLaughlin said a heavy corporate tax reduces investment and consequently future labor productivity and wages.
McLaughlin also called the progressive tax system “arbitrary, irresponsible and worthy of dissent,” adding that “we should not punish individuals for succeeding in this country.”
The Democrats, however, questioned the long-term impact of Republicans’ tax-cut proposal.
Cornell Democrat member Jack Ross-Pilkington ’21 described the plan as a “trojan horse for tax increase.” He said that the proposal would only reduce taxes for Americans by 2025, after which the tax would in fact increase under the bill.
Ross-Pilkington argued that government intervention is a better way to help small businesses, as intervention often prevents big companies from merging and breaks up large corporations, he said, which leaves more opportunity for small businesses on the market.
Both sides also debated whether or not the government’s oversight has infringed on civil liberties and individual privacy.
Vincenzo Guido ’20, vice president of Cornell Republicans, criticized the federal government’s overreaching with mass surveillance and wiretapping under “vague causes of national security concerns”, which has posed “serious and existential threat” to the civil liberty protected by the Constitution.
“The toxic normalization of government overreach founded and pushed forward by the Bush and Obama administrations has laid legal instructions for the Trump administration,” Guido said. “We are now left with essentially two choices: continue to extend the [government’s] power, or to recognize the ideal of our founders.”
Although agreeing with the Republicans on the the intolerance of government’s encroaching on civil liberties, Democrats still believed that the government should weigh in on matters like the reduction of racial disparity and equal education opportunities across states, even though the Tenth Amendment delegates power to oversee such areas to the states.
“The Constitution is amendable, so it should be made to to adapt to the current situations,” Brown said. “The [federal] government and state government have shared responsibilities.”
“It’s arbitrary if one person is born somewhere, he can receive these benefits, and if born elsewhere, he can’t,” Ross-Pilkington added.
Both parties agreed that the Constitution should always be used as guide for policy making.
“[The Constitution] is deliberately made to be hard to change, and it should always be referred to as the core foundation,” Johns said.