The Globe asked each of the top 15 presidential campaigns — 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats — for one big idea that the White House hopeful believes would have a major impact on the country if he or she is elected. Their answers varied from an overhaul of the college accreditation system to tax code changes and less specific proposals to boost the country's economics.
Some candidates followed our request for a one specific idea better than others. Some offered several proposals in their submissions (we've printed their responses anyway). The campaigns of Ben Carson and Rick Santorum did not respond to several requests seeking their proposals, and a spokeswoman for Donald Trump's operation declined to participate.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush
Restore cuts to strengthen the military
For too long, President Obama and Congress have ignored the first responsibility of government: to provide for the common defense and keep America safe. The war of our time — the battle against ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism — requires that we have the will and the firepower to take the fight to the terrorists overseas, so that we never again have to face them here at home.
Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in "peace through strength." I oppose the $1 trillion in defense cuts passed by President Obama and Congress. I am committed to rebuilding the military and keeping the faith with our troops.
I would undo cuts to the Army and Marine Corps, grow the size of the Navy, and increase Virginia-class submarine production. I would replace Air Force jets older than our pilots with more modern, safer, and more lethal aircraft.
I have a detailed plan to defeat ISIS. It requires leading an international coalition to eliminate ISIS and end the Assad regime's brutal war, which is fueling radicalism. It means listening to military commanders and getting lawyers off our war-fighters' backs. It means establishing no-fly zones and safe havens to halt the refugee crisis and stabilize Syria.
President Obama and [former] secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton have proven that "leading from behind" isn't really leading at all, and 'smart power' can be pretty dumb without the will or capacity to back it up. We need to make America freer, safer, and stronger. Rebuilding our military is a crucial part of that.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton
Raise middle-class incomes
I believe that the defining economic challenge of our time is raising incomes for hard-working Americans — and it will be my top priority as president. Too many families I've met in New Hampshire and across the country are working harder, but struggling to get by. I will fight for strong, fair, and long-term economic growth so that families can get ahead and stay ahead. And I will do it without raising taxes on working families — because I believe the middle class needs a raise, not a tax increase.
I will invest in infrastructure, clean energy, and basic research to create good-paying jobs, strengthen our economy, and get incomes rising again. I will encourage companies to share profits with their workers, not just their executives. I will cut taxes for hard-working families as they face rising costs for health care and higher education. And my New College Compact will ensure that students don't have to take out loans to pay tuition and that borrowers can refinance their existing student debt — so that costs won't be a barrier and debt won't hold any student back.
I believe that if you are truly concerned about raising incomes for middle-class families, the last thing you should do is cut their take-home pay right off the bat by raising their taxes. Working families need a champion in the White House, and I believe I can be that champion."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Acquire more resources for law enforcement and the intelligence community
We need a leader who understands that the first duty of the president is to protect the safety and security of the American people. As a former federal prosecutor, I spent seven years in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 working to disrupt terror plots against the homeland, putting terrorists in jail, and protecting our citizens. Working with the Patriot Act. Working with our law enforcement. Working with the intelligence community, to make sure that we keep America safe.
As president, I will ensure that law enforcement and the intelligence community once again have the resources and tools they need. I will specifically restore the tools to our intelligence community that have been taken away by President Obama with the help of some misguided Republicans in Congress.
We also need a president who is ready to lead as commander-in-chief in an increasingly dangerous world. I will take the fight to ISIS by instituting a no-fly zone in Syria and working with our NATO and Arab allies to build a broad coalition with the necessary resources and regional support to destroy ISIS.
I will also restore American leadership in international affairs. Under the Christie presidency, our allies will never have to wonder whether we will stand with them, and our enemies will never wonder what we will stand for.
US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas
Install the ‘Cruz Simple Flat Tax’
Imagine 4.9 million new jobs. Instead of Obama's income stagnation, imagine every income-level seeing double-digit increases in after-tax income. Capital investment rising 43.9 percent. Imagine exports and manufacturing jobs booming. Our trade deficit falling as the tax bias against American made goods is eliminated. Imagine a 10 percent income tax, with every American filling out his or her taxes on a postcard or iPhone app. And abolishing the IRS as we know it.
Under the "Cruz Simple Flat Tax," that is the transformative growth that will become the new standard. Every family will be able to save up to $25,000 annually tax-deferred in Universal Savings Accounts for any reason — whether they choose to build a nest egg or invest in starting a business. The Cruz Simple Flat Tax eliminates six different taxes, including the payroll tax, Obamacare taxes, and the death tax. It removes the current competitive disadvantage for American products by not taxing exports, and it allows for immediate expensing of business equipment, which will remove the burden currently imposed on farming and manufacturing.
The Simple Flat Tax, paired with regulatory reform, will be a revolutionary catalyst for reignite jobs, growth, and opportunity for families and workers across every sector of the economy.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina
Augment American leadership
Last month, I rolled out my blueprint to take back our country. It is a list of the most important problems that we must solve so that we can take our country back from the career politicians who have turned it into a bloated bureaucracy that only works for the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well-connected.
Here are my six priorities.
We must defeat ISIS and put America back in the leadership business. This is a war we must wage and win by denying them territory and providing our allies the support they have asked for.
We should secure our borders and enforce a pro-American immigration system. We know the solutions. We just haven't had a president with the political will to get it done. I will.
We must stand for life and religious liberty to restore the character of our nation because faith and prayer are the bedrocks of our national character.
We must repeal Obamacare. We need to try the one thing we've never done in health care in this country: the free market.
We must pass zero-based budgeting. We need to be able to examine where every dollar is being spent so we can move any dollar and cut any dollar.
We must radically simplify our tax code from 73,000 pages to more like three pages because if it isn't simple, it isn't fair.
I'm running for president because ours was intended to be a citizen government. It's time to take our country back.
Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore
Simplify the tax code
The Growth Code is not a collection of pie-in-the-sky theoretical remedies to our continued economic problems. These are the historically proven policies that worked for [presidents] Kennedy and Reagan. When the Growth Code is enacted into law, the results will be a new turbocharged economy. Growth will recover quickly from its lows in the Obama years to exceed the historical average of 4 percent per year. Unemployment — real unemployment — will drop significantly because new good jobs will be created. Wages will go up due to job growth, and the American dream will suddenly become achievable for millions of Americans now denied it. Americans want jobs and deserve an economy that enables good, productive jobs to be found.
The Growth Code is our way back to economic prosperity so we can all again see a brighter future where the American Dream is secure and thriving. My Growth Code is a five-point plan that will put America on a sustainable path of economic growth. I propose: a simple, unified 15 percent rate on all business income, regardless of the type of entity; tax rates of 10 percent, 15 percent, and 25 percent on individual income as currently defined under the Internal Revenue Code; immediate expensing of capital equipment; elimination of the abhorrent practice of double taxation; any household living in poverty will receive a family tax credit of $4,300.
Every American — no matter how rich or poor — will pay federal taxes when this family tax credit becomes law. #growthcode
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee
Replace the IRS with a national sales tax
The IRS is a criminal enterprise, and our 75,000-page tax code is a monster we must kill. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the federal government has the right to know what you make. I have no idea why most GOP candidates support plans that "tinker" with the tax code and keep the feds' fickle fingers in your wallet.
It's time we abolish the IRS and pass the FairTax. The FairTax eliminates all federal taxes on wages and income. In its place, it establishes a flat, fair, family-friendly national sales tax. Because you're only taxed when you buy something, it's the only plan that once and for all eliminates the need for the IRS. The FairTax brings trillions of dollars in offshore investment and manufacturing back to the United States — creating millions of good jobs for American workers. The FairTax puts Americans first. It's the only plan that ensures drug dealers, prostitutes, and pimps pay taxes. The FairTax gives every senior a Social Security bonus payment and helps the poorest and middle class get a leg up.
Right now, Washington's tax system punishes hard work and rewards irresponsibility. The harder you work, the more Washington confiscates from your paycheck. We must stop the madness. Our current tax system is unfair, unnavigable, and insanely complex. It's time we abolish this monstrosity, eliminate the IRS by passing the FairTax.
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Balance the budget in eight years
America must balance the budget, and if I am president I will do in eight years — probably sooner. I've already drafted the outline for doing it and you can see it at johnkasich.com/resultsnow.
Only by practicing the conservative ideas it takes to balance the budget will we ever rein in spending, reform broken entitlement programs, shrink the Washington bureaucracy, and take our money, power, and influence back to our states and communities. The combined effect of this will be to create the economic strength it takes to have a more powerful military and to create the job America needs.
Don't even try to tell me it can't be done. I did it four years in a row as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and I've done it in Ohio, turning a projected $8 billion shortfall into a $2 billion surplus — while cutting taxes $5 billion. It simply takes the will to change and a leader who can bring people together. I can do it. I've done it before.
America can and will get its finances in order and then we'll lock it in with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Only by shrinking Washington, cutting taxes, and responsibly managing the American taxpayers' money will we create the economic growth we need now and over the long term. Together we can do it.
Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley
Make college more affordable
My wife, Katie, and I were proud of our daughters on their college graduation day — and thanks to their mountain of student debt, we're going to be proud of them every month for the rest of our natural lives. We are not alone: Millions of families are struggling to pay off student loans or can't afford to send their children to college at all.
That's why I was the first presidential candidate to put forward a plan to give every student the opportunity to graduate from college debt-free, within five years. My comprehensive plan will help every student according to their need: No student would have to go into debt to cover the cost of tuition or fees, at any public or community college or university in their state.
I know my plan will work, because its built from what worked in Maryland, where as a governor I actually made college more affordable. First, I will call on all states to immediately freeze tuition, then start bringing down costs. States that do so will receive matching federal grants, doubling their own investments dollar-for-dollar. Then, I will increase support for students who need help the most, through a big expansion of Pell Grants and work-study.
At the same time, I will work to make college more affordable, by reducing costs overall. And I will fight to allow students and parents refinance their loans at today's lower interest rates, while making income-based repaying programs the default for all borrowers.
US Senator Rand Paul
A 14.5 percent tax cut
I'm proposing the biggest, boldest tax cut in American history — an across the board 14.5 percent tax cut for every single American. My plan means the American family making $40,000 a year would save over $5,000, or about two months of the average paycheck.
My plan destroys an industry of lobbyists and lawyers gaming the system. All special tax breaks will be gone. This means no one of privilege, wealth, or with political-insider connections and an arsenal of lobbyists can bend the system in ways that allow them to pay a lower rate than the average working American.
My plan would balance the budget in five years. It's unacceptable that most of Washington — Democrats and Republicans — are in cahoots with crony capitalists and special interests. The corruption in Washington not only depletes the wealth of our nation, it harms our national security and even our health — and I pledge to reform it.
I want common-sense rules that will break the logjam in Congress. That's why I introduced a Read the Bills Act. The bills are thousands of pages long. And no one reads them. They are often plopped on our desks only a few hours before a vote. Elected officials should read the bills!
It's time for the Washington Machine to stop picking winners and losers. It's time for us to stop the Washington Machine.
US Senator Marco Rubio
Overhaul higher education’s accreditation process
Our higher education system is broken and outdated. With so many new ways to share and access knowledge, there is no reason our people should be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years on a campus to earn a degree. As president, I will fundamentally overhaul higher education, and it will start with one simple idea: I will reform our accreditation process, which is how an institution becomes certified to offer degrees.
Currently the accreditation process is controlled by existing brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, which use their considerable power to block low-cost, innovative competitors from arising in the marketplace. I will establish a new, independent accrediting process that will be designed to welcome modern, flexible and affordable providers.
With this one relatively simple step, we will expose higher education to the transformative forces of choice and competition. As more affordable and accessible providers become available, existing colleges and universities will be forced to lower their prices to stay competitive. The needs of students will finally become the driving force in higher education.
Accreditation reform is only the first of several steps to transform higher education. My entire agenda is purposed around ensuring that all of our people have access to higher education in the 21st century. I will ensure that students won't struggle as much to afford college, and that government won't have to spend as much, or tax as much, to help them pay.
US Senator Bernie Sanders
Reduce income inequality
The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time.
There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-10th of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
This campaign is sending a message to the billionaire class: "You can't have it all." You can't get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry. You can't continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can't hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs in every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities as Americans.
Under my administration, we will make public colleges and universities tuition-free paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculators.
We will extend and expand Social Security by making multimillionaires pay the same percentage of their income into the system as the middle class so that every senior citizen can retire in dignity.
We will create and maintain 13 million jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.
We will increase the minimum wage from the starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to a living wage of $15 an hour by 2020. No one who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.