Today, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” a document styled after 1994′s Contract with America that the GOP claims is “an outline of the party’s targets in the final weeks of the legislative session.” We’ve already explained how the Pledge promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with portions of the Affordable Care Act and how it represents a blood oath to Big Oil, so let’s turn to another aspect: its effect on the deficit.
Of course, the Pledge includes a promise to extend all of the Bush tax cuts — including those for the richest two percent of Americans — for a total price tag of $4 trillion over the next decade, while laying out spending cuts that, even if the numbers are taken at face value, don’t come close to covering that cost. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — the ranking member of the House Budget Committee — to explain how the GOP can square its desire for huge, regressive tax cuts with its supposed commitment to deficit reduction:
STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you going to pay for that $4 trillion, if you’re going to reduce spending?
RYAN: I brought a budget to the floor last year that cut $4.8 trillion in spending, which would have more than compensated for these tax cuts. [...]
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you do concede that you do not have a plan to balance the budget and you don’t pay for the tax cuts you’re extending?
RYAN: Well, we can pay for the tax cuts we’re extending. I have provided budgets that do that in the past.
Ryan went to great lengths to emphasize that he was not referring to his Roadmap for America’s Future, which is a long-term plan that purports to balance the budget by privatizing Social Security and Medicare, from which the GOP leadership has distanced itself. However, the budgets that Ryan actually brought to the floor are barely less radical.
Last year, Ryan’s released an “alternative budget” that would have privatized Medicare, cut Social Security benefits (in an admittedly unspecified manner) and implemented a five-year non-defense discretionary spending freeze that would have meant significant reductions in programs like Head Start and Pell Grants. Not only that, but it would have raised taxes on low-income families while cutting them for the very wealthy, as Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out:
Over a fourth of taxpayers, mostly low-income families, would pay more in taxes under the House GOP plan than they would under the President’s plan. The richest one percent of taxpayers would pay $100,000 less, on average, under the House GOP plan than they would under the President’s plan.
The Pledge, as Ben Adler noted, “calculates how much spending cuts will save the government and how much tax cuts will save the taxpayer, but not how much their tax cuts or spending proposals will cost the government.” So are Republicans counting on using the Pledge as a way to backdoor in Ryan’s radical budgets, even when they publicly disavow Ryan’s ideas? (He didn’t even appear at the Pledge’s unveiling.)
The Pledge doesn’t have any specific proposals for dealing with the big drivers of the federal budget — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — but instead includes vague promises to “require accounting” and set “benchmarks” for the programs. So all we have to go on is Ryan’s assertion that he has a budget that can pay for all the tax cuts, which he clearly wants to accomplish by dismantling entitlements.