Politics

08.30.12

The Biggest Lie of All

For all my (and many other people's) carrying on about Medicare solely, the big lie at the heart of the whole Romney-Ryan approach is really this: They shroud their proposals in rhetoric that completely obscures the inevitable--yes, inevitable--consequences of those proposals.

They say four things: 1, cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. 2, increase defense spending; 3, cut taxes substantially; 4, balance the budget. That's their program as far as we know it.

Now, is it utterly impossible to do those four things? No. But we have budget experts around who can calculate the precise way in which it is possible. Please permit me to introduce to you Richard Kogan and Paul van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

They released a paper earlier this year, updated in May, that I think is well worth a few minutes of your time. They ran the numbers and here is what they found:

For the most part, Governor Romney has not outlined cuts in specific programs. But if policymakers exempted Social Security from the cuts, as Romney has suggested, and cut Medicare, Medicaid, and all other entitlement and discretionary programs by the same percentage — to meet Romney’s spending cap, defense spending target, and balanced budget requirement — then non-defense programs other than Social Security would have to be cut 29 percent in 2016 and 59 percent in 2022 (see Figure 1). Without the balanced budget requirement, the cuts would be smaller but still massive, reaching 40 percent in 2022.

That's a nearly 30 percent cut in 2016, i.e., during a President Romney's first term, and in the year in which he'd be seeking reelection, of 30 percent to Medicare. And to Medicaid, which (not that this should matter, but...) is not just for poor people but pays for nursing-home care for middle-class people.

More: I imagine that when our conservative readers hear the phrase "budget cuts," they think, well, that just affects the moocher class, so good, chop away. But everything means everything, folks. Border patrol agents. Want 29 percent fewer of those, do you? Broader homeland security activities; should that take a 30 percent whack? General administration of courts and justice? Federal courthouses are backlogged and stuffed to the gills as it is.

How about veteran's benefits? Military retirement benefits--a larger-than-you'd think chunk of federal spending, because retired military personnel typically have pretty generous plans; 30 percent out of that? Health and scientific research at NIH? Transportation?

I have not, you'll notice, listed one thing that has anything to do with poor people. I've listed things conservatives say they care about, for the most part. Are people really prepared to see these programs cut nearly in half, or more than in half, in the next 10 years?

Of course they aren't. It is politically impossible. And so, if all this is politically impossible, what are they actually going to do if they get in there? Now we have to think about priorities.

The first priority is probably the tax cuts. That's religion. Then they'll start exempting programs like veterans and border patrol, meaning that programs like environmental protection and things that help poor people will bear the brunt of just massive cuts. It's the budget-balancing that usually gets tossed first, so what they'll do is run up a massive deficit, far bigger than we have now. What will Jenny Beth Martin and her Tea Party friends say then?

There's no way to make it all work in any way that public opinion would remotely approve of. The vast majority of these programs are pretty popular. They are in fantasy land. And I haven't even gotten into the whole question of the economic effect of taking all these trillions out of the economy, a practice that Romney himself, you will recall, in that interview with Time magazine a while ago, admitted was dubious.

And all this is presented to people as fiscal discipline and responsibility! This is why so many of us want to shoot our televisions.