A Challenge To Republicans: Here’s What Reducing The Deficit Through Large Spending Cuts Looks Like

Our guest blogger is Michael Linden, Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Republicans love to say that the deficit is a “spending problem.” It’s their go-to talking point. Of course, when pressed to say exactly what they would cut to solve this problem, they always come up empty. In fact, all House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) could come up with when he was asked three times what he would cut from the budget was “we’ve got spending to cut in the short-term, and what we’ve got is a huge problem in the long-term, where we’ve got to get serious about it. You’re absolutely right.”

That’s no accident. The truth is that the vast majority of what the government does is necessary, widely beneficial, popular, or all of the above, which is why Republicans tie themselves in knots to avoid detailing exactly what they’d slash. When they do manage to mention anything specific, it’s usually something silly like rescinding unused stimulus funds (which would have the effect of raising middle class taxes, and wouldn’t have any effect on the deficit beyond next year) or something that wouldn’t actually reduce the deficit at all.

In short, either Republicans don’t really care about reducing spending, or they just don’t want to share their ideas since they’re bound to be incredibly unpopular.

Well, today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that calls their bluff. The new paper, entitled, “A Thousand Cuts: What Reducing the Federal Budget Deficit Through Large Spending Cuts Could Really Look Like,” goes through the exercise of trying to find sufficient spending reductions to get the federal budget to primary balance by 2015. (Primary balance is when total spending, with the exception of interest payments on the debt, is equal to total revenue.) This also happens to be the goal set out for President Obama’s deficit commission.

Getting to primary balance in 2015 will require finding $255 billion in deficit reductions, compared to the president’s most recent budget plan. That’s $255 billion in one year.

Now, we tried our best to find cuts that would be the least harmful to the economy, that would protect the most vulnerable, and do the least damage to our prospects for future safety, security and prosperity. But the simple fact is that cutting $255 billion from the budget requires some pretty draconian measures – big cuts to highway funding, cuts to medical research, the Federal Aviation Association, defense, Pell grants and much more.

So, to all those Republicans who seem to think we can balance the budget purely through spending cuts, here are your only three options:

— You can own the cuts we’ve outlined and say to the public: yes we do need to cut highway funding by 40 percent, and immigration enforcement by 20 percent, and the National Institutes of Health by 10 percent, and all the rest.

— You can submit your own plan in as much detail as we have done – no gimmicks allowed.

Or you can admit what every sensible person already knows – that balancing the budget is going to require a reasonable mix of less spending and more revenue.

Of course, I guess you could also go with Option 4: continue to obfuscate, avoid ever getting specific, and hope that no one notices. But Option 4 confirms your status as a Deficit Peacock.