EPPERSON: So you wouldn’t agree -- you wouldn’t agree with a start for 401(k) for businesses or anything like that? FIORINA: I think it’s a wonderful that that businesses start a 401(k). The point I’m making is this, the federal government should not be in a lot of things. There is no constitutional role for the federal government in setting up retirement plans. There is no constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages. The more the government gets engaged in the economy, the slower the economy becomes.
Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina got a significant boost after the previous GOP debate, though the bump was fleeting. It didn't help that Fiorina struggled to defend one of her obvious falsehoods, pretending that fiction is fact and undermining her credibility as a candidate.
If last night was Fiorina's opportunity to demonstrate her honesty as a White House hopeful, she let that chance pass her by. She claimed "92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women," which isn't true. Fiorina insisted, "We now have a 73,000-page tax code," which also isn't true. She attributed 470,000 job losses to "Obamacare," which isn't even close to being true.
None of this will improve the GOP candidate's reputation.
But arguably Fiorina's most important moment in last night's debate had nothing to do with dishonesty and everything to do with ideology.
CNBC's Sharon Epperson asked Fiorina about whether the federal government should "play a larger role in helping to set up retirement plans" for workers who "have no access to an employer sponsored retirement plan." The candidate replied, "No, the federal government should not play a larger role. Look, every time the federal government gets engaged in something it gets worse."
It led to this exchange:
It was the night's only reference to the minimum wage, and it came unprompted. Fiorina apparently just wanted to share her personal view: she sees the federal minimum wage as unconstitutional.
The line didn't generate much attention, which is a shame because Fiorina was describing a deeply radical vision -- see our coverage from July on the "Lochner litmus test" -- that effectively says the federal government has no legal authority to intervene in the private economic marketplace.
It would be up to the private sector and the free market to set minimum wages, and if that floor was too low, well that's just too bad. Congress, under Fiorina's approach, can't intervene in the economy, even to benefit struggling workers facing unfair conditions.
If there is "no constitutional role for the federal government to be setting minimum wages," the federal minimum wage would drop from $7.25 to $0.
Fiorina isn't entirely alone on this front among 2016 Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has said, plainly, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Earlier this year, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) went so far as to say, “We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this.”
But neither of them suggested the minimum wage is unconstitutional the way Fiorina did.
Those who see the former business executive as some kind of moderate should probably reevaluate those assumptions.