The plan, however, proves that McCaskill and Corker are nothing more than deficit peacocks: willing to score political points by assuring everyone how very serious they are about addressing the deficit, but not actually doing any of the work that serious budgeting requires.
All the Corker-McCaskill plan entails is a cap on overall government spending at 20.6 percent of GDP. But how will we get from the current 24 percent of GDP down below the cap? McCaskill and Corker don’t lay out any ideas! Perhaps that’s because actually adhering to the cap would require massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare or else draconian gutting of the rest of the budget, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted.
In fact, McCaskill and Corker’s cap would actually hold federal spending below the level at which it was under President Reagan, even though there are now tens of millions more seniors reliant on Social Security and Medicare than there were in the 1980’s. As CAP Senior Fellow Matt Miller wrote, “as a matter of math, if you run the government at a smaller level than did Ronald Reagan while accommodating this massive increase in the number of seniors on our health and pension programs, you have to decimate the rest of the budget.”
Even if Corker and McCaskill had some sort of plan in place for getting spending down to 20.6 percent, basing future budget needs on past historical averages is simply a lazy and silly way to budget, as CAP’s Michael Linden explained:
It’s simply wrong to try and budget for the future by looking backwards and trying to shoehorn future needs into whatever the past levels have been. Instead, we should be trying to determine broadly how much public investment will be required as we move deeper into the 21st century, and then how do we pay for those investments in the most efficient way possible…Certainly everyone agrees that times and circumstances have changed, and that the federal government should, presumably, change with them.
McCaskill clearly thinks highly of this proposal, saying today that “if this bill is distorted and twisted, it could cost me my senate seat, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay. It’s a price I’m willing to pay for my country and, more importantly, it’s a price I’m willing to pay for my grandchildren.” But it isn’t nearly the solution that she claims it is.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ James Horney adds:
It is striking that when she unveiled the proposal, Senator McCaskill criticized as “ridiculous” the recent House Republican Study Committee plan to cut nondefense discretionary funding over ten years by about $2.5 trillion.
I fully agree that the RSC proposal — which would slash overall funding for the part of the budget that includes K-12 education, the FBI, cancer research, health care for wounded veterans, and many other programs by 42 percent below today’s level, adjusted just for inflation — makes no sense. But by the same standard, it is hard to conclude that the McCaskill-Corker proposal, which would mandate about $4.5 trillion in spending reductions over ten years in all programs — discretionary programs plus entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare — is any more responsible.