LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Last night's Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee focused on economic issues. To help us navigate what the candidates said about policy, we asked NPR's Scott Horsley, Danielle Kurtzleben, and Jim Zarroli to break it down.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Where's the beat? When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, where's the beat.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This is Scott Horsley. Republican candidates painted a bleak picture of the U.S. economy during their debate. Here's Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
MARCO RUBIO: For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses dying than starting.
HORSLEY: And that data point on business creation, which Rubio's highlighted before, was also picked up his fellow Floridian Jeb Bush.
JEB BUSH: We have to recognize that small businesses right now, more of them are closing than are being set up.
HORSLEY: Now that certainly was true in the early years of the Obama administration, which coincided with the Great Recession. But in 2012 and '13, according to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, more businesses opened their doors here than closed. Now this fits a pattern with a lot of economic statistics. Things are better than they were but still not where we'd like them to be. So the question facing voters is do you want to stay the course in hopes of further improvement, or do you think it's time to change direction?
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, this is Danielle Kurtzleben, and this statement from Ben Carson about the minimum wage caught my ear.
BEN CARSON: People need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.
KURTZLEBEN: Now, Carson said he doesn't want a higher federal minimum wage. And this is, by the way, a flip-flop for him. In May, Carson said it, quote, "probably should be raised from its current level of $7.25 an hour." But OK, has the number of jobless people grown every time the minimum wage has grown? And the answer there is no. Sometimes it has, but sometimes it hasn't. The bigger question here, though, is whether a higher minimum wage would hurt job creation, and that's tougher to answer. In a 2013 University of Chicago survey, top economists were nearly evenly split on whether a $9 wage would hurt lower wage workers. And while some studies have found that a higher wage could cost jobs, plenty of others have found minimal effects. However, the moderators specifically brought up a $15 per hour wage, more than twice the current level. That's a much bigger hike than studies usually deal with, and a nationwide hike that high could hurt job creation, especially in places where wages and prices are low.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: This is Jim Zarroli. Donald Trump talks a lot about how the United States gets taken advantage of by other countries because he says the president doesn't know how to negotiate. And in the debate last night, he talked in particular about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade pact involving the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. The TPP is something President Obama would very much like to get through Congress. Donald Trump doesn't like it one bit.
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DONALD TRUMP: It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It's a deal that was designed for China to come in as they always do through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.
ZARROLI: Trump says that China is guilty of currency manipulation, which is something that happens when a country lowers the value of its currency to make its exports more competitive. It's something that very much has hurt U.S. companies over the years. Trump says the TPP fails to address currency manipulation, and he is right about that. There is a side agreement in which all of the countries promise not to manipulate their currencies, but critics say it's pretty much unenforceable. So, Trump is correct, but two points need to be made. First, because China's currency, the yuan, has been rising in value for a while, the International Monetary Fund now says it's fairly valued. So, China may have been guilty of currency manipulation in the past, but it's not such a big issue now. And then second, China isn't just signatory to the TPP, at least right now. So whatever the agreement says, China wouldn't be affected right now anyway.
KURTZLEBEN: And this is Danielle again back with one more quick one. There was a lot of talk last night about how long the tax code is. Here's Carly Fiorina.
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CARLY FIORINA: Innovation and entrepreneurship is crushed by the crushing load of a 73,000-page tax code.
KURTZLEBEN: Now say what you will about innovation, but the tax code is not 73,000 pages long. Fiorina appears to be referring to something called the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter. And as of 2013, that had nearly 74,000 pages. But that includes a bunch of stuff that's not the tax code, like proposed regulations. The Internal Revenue Code is much shorter than that. Now there are a few stats out there of how long it is, but the PDF I downloaded from the House of Reps website last night came in at nearly 6,500 pages. Another version I found on Amazon came in at 5,000 pages. Either way, it's nowhere near 73,000.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, Jim Zarroli and Scott Horsley breaking down some of the policy discussion at last night's Republican debate, you can find more from our Fact Check team at nprpolitics.org.
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