Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio (FL) has been having a little trouble laying out exactly how he plans to balance the budget (as his proposed constitutional balanced budget amendment would require), while simultaneously cutting taxes for the rich and corporations. And when pressed for specifics regarding what, exactly, he would endorse eliminating from the federal budget, Rubio has simply refused to answer.
Today, Rubio’s penchant for budget fuzziness was on full display during an interview with Fox News. Asked what he would cut from the budget, Rubio seized onto the same John Boehner-inspired return to 2008 non-defense discretionary spending levels that was included in the House Republicans’ Pledge to America. But when asked what that translates into practically, Rubio managed to name precisely zero items in the discretionary budget that he would cut:
Q: What would be the first thing you would cut?
RUBIO: First thing that we need to do is actually roll back discretionary spending and freeze it at the 2008 level. [...]
Q: Is there an item on the discretionary spending that you think would be where to focus?
RUBIO: Oh, goodness. Yeah, how ’bout the unspent stimulus money? How ’bout the unspent TARP money? I mean, those two alone are significant billions of dollars that can be used to pay down the debt. That’s just a start. I think when you add $3 trillion to the national debt, the way this administration has done over the last 18 months, you’re not going to struggle to find places to cut back federal discretionary spending.
Both the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 were one-time emergency spending measures, not discretionary spending programs. They aren’t going to be re-authorized. In fact, TARP has already expired! Some discretionary programs did receive stimulus funding, but the Recovery Act, as a piece of legislation, is not discretionary spending and has no effect on the federal budget beyond 2012.
But what is in the discretionary budget? For starters, all federal education funding, some veteran’s benefits, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, federal highway funding, the National Park Service, the Coast Guard, and Congress itself. And even if you cut every last penny of the non-defense discretionary budget, you still wouldn’t eliminate the deficit.
Rubio, like many Republicans, seems to think that there a whole host of programs in the federal budget that affect no one and that no one will miss. But it’s simply not true, and in the meantime, Rubio is utterly incapable of identifying anything he would do to get the long-term deficit under control. Instead, he simply names programs that are explicitly designed to disappear no matter what he or anyone else thinks of them.