When we last encountered Illinois’ Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk, he was scaring farmers into thinking that they’re going to have to pay the estate tax, when it affects just 1.6 percent of farm estates. And Kirk isn’t any more concerned about the details when it comes to federal spending, if the “Five Top Policies to Control Spending” he released yesterday are any indication.
“In order to prevent a Greek tragedy right here in the U.S., we should take quick action on the emerging sovereign debt crisis and reduce government spending here at home,” Kirk says, hewing to the Greek theme that he favors. Kirk’s five ideas are: “Enact a line-item veto; End earmarks; Require a supermajority to spend beyond our means; Enact Senator Simon’s balanced budget amendment; and Reestablish the Grace Commission with special procedures to implement approved spending cuts.”
Progress Illinois referred to the plan as “Kirk’s vapid spending reforms.” Indeed, the plan shows that Kirk is either woefully uninformed about where the problems in the federal budget lie, or he’s not at all interested in actually addressing the deficit.
The line-item veto, as Progress Illinois noted, has not only been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but would likely just lead to increased political horse-trading when it comes to spending, not any actual reductions. The exact balanced budget plan that Kirk mentions was defeated by the Senate in 1994, and even conservatives realize that preventing the federal government from ever running a deficit is “a stupid idea.” Calling for a balanced budget amendment is a political trick, not a serious budget proposal.
It’s unclear what Kirk’s proposal to “require a supermajority to spend beyond our means” would actually be in practice. And like any good politico, Kirk suggests a commission to make spending cuts, outsourcing Congress’ duties to some other body.
The only cut that Kirk explicitly identifies is to end earmarks, which, in total, amount to less than one percent of the federal budget (about $20 billion). Remember, Kirk wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and completely eliminate the estate tax, which together cost about $1.6 trillion over ten years. Against that, the paltry $20 billion he saves from eliminating earmarks is a drop in the bucket.
Like other Republican senate hopefuls, Kirk’s plan is long on rhetoric, but short on actual spending cuts, while flat-out ignoring the real long-term drivers of the deficit: giant tax cuts, health care spending, and the defense budget. But of course, the real trouble here is that balancing the budget on the spending side alone, while also enacting trillions in new tax breaks for the rich, would require absolutely draconian cuts to highly popular programs that many people depend upon. So it’s better to just not tell anyone what your plans are.