A few weeks ago, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — one of the self-styled GOP “Young Guns” and the lead architect of the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” — was pressed on MSNBC to name one single program he’d cut from the federal budget to reduce spending. After dodging the questions for a minute, McCarthy finally embarrassingly responded “the line item would be across-the-board.”
Of course, McCarthy is hardly alone in this regard: a plethora of Republicans have been unable to name any programs they would cut to reduce the deficit. In fact, my colleague Alex Seitz-Wald has a video featuring a number of them.
It seems that McCarthy though, has finally wizened up, as last night he came on PBS’ Newshour prepared with some answers. When the host asserted that “it’s hard to imagine a path to [budget] balance” with the policies Republicans have identified, McCarthy said “not really, not really” and named four cuts he would make. Watch it:
McCarthy gets points for trying, I suppose, but here’s what he identified and each program’s budgetary impact:
– Cutting subsidies for Amtrak sleeper cars: $120 million (0.003 percent of the budget)
– Cutting “taxpayer subsidized union activities”: $120 million (0.003 percent)
– Economic aid to foreign nations: $7.9 billion (0.22 percent). Half of this goes to Afghanistan, which presumably Republicans wouldn’t actually cut.
– Child nutrition programs: $8.28 billion (0.23 percent). More than 90 percent of the nutrition funding in the budget is mandatory, which McCarthy has said he won’t cut, and of the $8 billion in discretionary nutrition spending, the vast majority is to fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Children and Infants (WIC). This program provides food, education, and health care referrals to more than 9 million low-income women and children.
So there you have it. One minuscule subsidy, something that sounds devious but isn’t at all specific, a highly unlikely cut in foreign aid, and slashing nutrition assistance for needy women, all to reduce the budget by less than one-half of one percent (0.45 percent, to be exact). And to be clear, McCarthy laid out exemptions to the latter two cuts, but I’ve been extremely charitable and scored him as cutting the entire portion of the budget he named. So his savings wouldn’t even be as high as I’ve calculated.
With the Pledge to America, House Republicans are suggesting $11 trillion in deficits over the next decade, and it’s abundantly clear that they have no plan for paying for it. The best they can come up with is some small-ball programs that have no impact on the structural deficit (which is driven by health care spending, defense spending, and massive tax cuts for the wealthy). Not that ineffective programs shouldn’t be cut, but if McCarthy thinks reductions of the magnitude he’s laid out will ever lead to a balanced budget then he simply has no clue what the federal budget looks like.