Chris Wallace looked on Tuesday, in Cleveland, as Joe Biden debated Donald Trump. (Credit: Olivier Douliery) Moderator Chris Wallace looks on Tuesday, as Joe Biden (left) debated Donald Trump in Cleveland. (Photo: Bloomberg/Olivier Douliery)

The first presidential debate for the 2020 election may be best remembered not for what the candidates said about the economy, COVID-19 pandemic or the Supreme Court but for the chaos on stage.

Some television commentators afterward even questioned whether there would be a second and third debate due to President Donald Trump’s interrupting of both his opponent and the moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

On the economy, Trump boasted correctly that it’s recovering faster than many had expected following the wide-ranging state shutdowns in March and April but incorrectly touted the U.S. economy under his watch as the greatest in history, while arguing that if Biden were president it would be shut down again.

Biden said the recovery is K-shaped  meaning that it is uneven for different segments of society — so millionaires and billionaires have done well due to tax cuts and the stock market’s rebound, but average Americans — “the people at home” — haven’t because of lost wages and jobs.

Like many economists and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Biden noted that the economy can’t fully recover until the COVID crisis is fixed and that small businesses need more government help to survive and thrive.

Job Numbers

Biden wrongly accused Trump of being the first president to leave office with the job market weaker that it was when he took office. Herbert Hoover, who was president during the Great Depression, left office in 1933 with an economy that had fewer jobs than when he was elected in 1929.

Biden said he would create 7 million more jobs in his first term than Trump would if he wins the election. Economists with Moody’s Analytics have estimated that 7.4 million more jobs would result from a Democratic sweep of the White House and Congress versus a Republican sweep of all three — in part because of a “green jobs” tied to infrastructural growth outlined in Biden’s plans to combat climate change, which aim for net zero emissions by 2035. 

Biden said the economy was suffering because of hurricanes, floods and rising seas as a result of climate change and that he would push for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which Trump abandoned. 

Trump said he was “all for electric cars” and that his relaxation of auto fuel standards made no difference to the environment. He said that he wants crystal clear water and clean air and that his administration was “doing phenomenally” on that front.

But the president declined to answer Wallace’s question over whether he believes the science about climate change and that human activity contributes to pollution. Trump said better management of forests is needed to reduce the proliferation of fires, and he tried to tie Biden to the proposed Green New Deal — which Biden, after some floundering, noted is not his plan to combat climate change.

Tax Matters

Moderator Wallace not surprisingly asked Trump about The New York Times report that the president had paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and in 2017, which is far less than most American households.

Trump responded that he paid “millions of dollars in income taxes” and took advantage of depreciation provisions enacted during the Obama administration in which Biden served. But the president has refused to release his income tax returns to prove this stance during the 2016 election and this year’s election. 

Hours before the presidential debate, Biden released his tax return for 2019 showing that he paid $300,000 on adjusted gross income of $985,000, a tax rate of just over 30%.

Biden said he would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% currently, following the 2017 tax cut legislation, to 28%. He also would push to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, including a higher payroll tax for those earning over $400,000. He said his economic plan would increase economic growth by $1 trillion.

Trump said that Biden’s tax plan will increase taxes on Americans by over $4 trillion over the next decade, which would hurt the economy as it comes out of a recession.

Moody’s Analytics has pegged Biden’s tax proposals, for individuals and corporations, as raising about $4 trillion on a static basis over the next decade but has noted that the money spent as a result of the measures would actually strengthen the economy.

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