(WASHINGTON) — Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are headed toward a clash in the 2024 GOP primary race and are already foreshadowing an intense conflict of personalities.
Their stances on tax and spending policies, however, aren’t so different.
In a GOP largely remade by Trump’s 2016 success, many leading conservatives have become aligned with him on the economy, including the Florida governor, who polls show is Trump’s biggest competitor for the Republican presidential nomination.
DeSantis on Wednesday filed paperwork to begin his presidential campaign. Here’s where he and Trump stack up in five key financial areas.
Social Security and Medicare
Republicans have historically promoted various types of changes to the country’s entitlement programs, from cuts to raising the age to qualify for them, because they argue that doing so promotes the programs’ longevity and decreases the size of the government.
However, both Trump and DeSantis are currently aligned in bucking those beliefs, instead advocating for the widely popular programs to remain as they are.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump emerged as — and continues to be — perhaps his party’s loudest voice in favor of keeping the programs entirely intact.
“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said in a video message in January, early on in the ongoing talks in Washington over the debt and government spending.
“Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it, and there’s plenty of it,” Trump said then. “But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security, don’t destroy it.”
DeSantis has sounded similar notes.
“Look, I have more seniors here than just about anyone as a percentage,” he said on Fox News in March. “We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans. I think that that’s pretty clear.”
However, both Trump and DeSantis have previously said different things on the issue.
While he was in Congress, DeSantis supported certain changes to Social Security, including backing nonbinding resolutions proposing raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 — a record Trump has already attacked.
The resolutions that DeSantis supported also called for transitioning Medicare from a program funded by the government to one in which the government would allocate funds for beneficiaries to spend on private insurance.
Trump, too, has voiced support for certain reforms in the past.
In a 2000 book he wrote called “The America We Deserve,” Trump backed raising the retirement age to 70 and called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” He also said in 1999 that he was open to privatizing Social Security, though he said he didn’t “like the idea.”
Trump is likely to continue to boast about one of his signature legislative wins as president: a sweeping tax cut that he signed into law in 2017.
He and senior members of his administration at the time said the cuts would pay for themselves by sparking increased spending and growth. However, a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that making permanent the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 would add $3.5 trillion to the nation’s deficit.
DeSantis, meanwhile, voted for that legislation when he was in the House and co-sponsored the Fair Tax Act of 2015, which would have imposed a 23% sales tax as a replacement for “the current income and corporate income tax, employment and self-employment taxes, and estate and gift taxes” and halted funding to the Internal Revenue Service after 2019.
Trump’s allies have hammered DeSantis over his past support for the 23% tax, with a political group that supports him dubbing the Florida governor in an ad as “Ron DeSalesTax,” prompting the main pro-DeSantis super PAC to recirculate his support in past interviews for a “fair tax or a flat tax.”
DeSantis earlier this year also proposed a plan that he claimed would provide $2 billion in tax relief and involved “a one year sales tax exemption on children’s items like books and toys; a permanent sales tax exemption on baby and toddler necessities like clothing, cribs, and strollers; and an expansion of the annual Back to School tax holiday.”
Trump upended Republicans’ support for free trade deals, telling voters during the 2016 campaign that other countries were instead using such agreements to take advantage of the U.S. As president, he also started a trade war with China.
In a plan released in February, Trump called for a “new pro-America system of universal baseline tariffs on most foreign products” and the adoption of “a 4-year plan to phase out all Chinese imports of essential goods.”
“My cutting-edge trade agenda will revitalize our economy by once again putting America first. We will quickly become a manufacturing powerhouse like the world has never seen before,” Trump argued then.
DeSantis has said less on trade, though on a recent international trip he did call for more cooperation between Florida and South Korea in areas such as space and aviation.
While he was in Congress, he also urged for more protections for Florida farmers under the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal that Trump scrapped while in office but replaced with a similar agreement.
Spending and the Federal Reserve
Neither Trump nor DeSantis has laid out detailed plans for how they’d tackle inflation, but their past comments give some indications on their views on government spending and monetary policy.
While he was president, Trump sharply criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, pushing the Fed to lower borrowing rates both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. He joined many other political leaders in supporting direct government payments to Americans as a way of dealing with lost jobs and economic uncertainty during the public health crisis.
With Republicans now blaming federal spending under Democrats for high inflation, DeSantis could pose a contrast with Trump, who signed major omnibus packages into law in 2017 and 2018 as well as the government’s initial wave of sweeping COVID-19 relief.
Trump had praised the $1.2 trillion bill signed in 2017 and lambasted the $1.3 trillion bill in 2018 before signing it. DeSantis voted against both pieces of legislation.
Trump and DeSantis have also criticized Powell, though Trump did name him to his current role.
Trump and DeSantis have found common ground on the issue of federal regulations.
The former president made a show of slashing red tape while in office and said in a policy rolled out in April that he would “bring the independent regulatory agencies, such as the FCC and the FTC, back under Presidential authority.”
“No longer will unelected members of the Washington Swamp be allowed to act as the fourth branch of our Republic,” he declared before vowing, if reelected, to reinstate an executive order from his term to scrap two old regulations for every new one implemented.
While in Congress, DeSantis took a similar position, supporting legislation mandating that any regulation determined to have significant economic impacts be subject to a vote by Congress before going into effect.
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