Our guest blogger is Michael Linden, the Associate Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.This week, the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes penned a column lauding Senator George Lemieux’s (R-FL) “2007 solution” for fixing the federal budget. Lemieux, writes Barnes, has “done the math” and his plan is simple:
If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.
Now I know that math can be tricky, but there are some pretty simple addition and subtraction issues here. Total federal spending in 2007 was $2.7 trillion. CBO estimates that this year the federal government will collect $2.2 trillion in revenues. So, even if we were spending at 2007 levels, we would still have a $500 billion deficit, not the $163 billion surplus Lemieux claims.
But let’s leave aside the easily disprovable claim that cutting spending back to 2007 levels would immediately produce a budget surplus and get to the real meat of the Senator’s proposal.
Lemieux says that if we limited government spending to 2008 levels, then we would have a surplus of $133 billion by 2014, even after making the Bush tax cuts permanent and indexing the AMT for inflation. In 2008 the federal government spent just under $3 trillion dollars and CBO estimates that revenues in 2014 will be around $3.1 trillion if the Bush tax cuts remain and the AMT is permanently fixed. So, at least Lemieux has his math approximately correct this time. So this plan sounds reasonable, right?
Well, in order to get 2014 spending down to 2008 levels, Congress would have to find about $1.2 trillion in savings just in 2014. To give you a sense of what that would mean, in 2008 Social Security spending was $612 billion. In 2014, it’s projected to be about $842 billion. Cutting Social Security back to 2008 levels would mean that benefits to retirees in 2014 would have to be slashed by $230 billion. That translates into an average cut of about $4,000 per beneficiary, a 28 percent reduction in benefits. (Calculations after the jump.)
And how about Medicare? Medicare spending is estimated to be $622 billion in 2014, compared to $386 billion in 2008, so Lemiuex’s plan would require finding $236 billion in reductions for just one year.
Now I’m sure that the good senator from Florida would never support such massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare, but if he doesn’t, then I’d like to know where else he’s going to find $1.2 trillion? The entire non-defense discretionary budget is projected to be about half of that in 2014, so even completely eliminating veteran’s benefits, the Transportation Security Administration, all aid to elementary schools, highway funding and farm subsidies wouldn’t get us even close to 2008 spending levels.
George Lemieux may have “done the math” but he clearly hasn’t thought this one through.