House Republicans, in their much-ballyhooed “Pledge to America,” suggested immediately cutting $100 billion from the non-defense discretionary portion federal budget, which would require a 21 percent reduction in, among other things, federal education funding. But Mike Lee, the Republican nominee for the Senate in Utah, has doubled down on the House GOP’s idea, saying that he would like to see an immediate 40 percent reduction in the federal budget, adding that he’s willing to see the government shut down if President Obama refuses to accede to such draconian cuts:
Lee said he’d “call their bluff” by first passing the tax cuts and forcing President Obama to sign them or veto them. Then, pass a balanced budget, which “would require about a 40 percent cut,” and force Obama to either sign it or shutdown the government. The prospect of such a showdown between Obama and Republicans, in fact, made Lee “giddy.” When asked about it Friday afternoon, Lee said that Thursday night was the first time he’d used the 40 percent figure.
What would this mean in practical terms, particularly in light of Lee’s previous decision to rule Social Security and the defense budget as out of bounds for cuts? As Newsweek’s Andrew Romano put it, “the math is simple–and bleak“:
In Obama’s budget, Social Security costs $787.6 billion; defense costs $928.5 billion; debt payments cost $250.7 billion. Together they total $1.967 trillion. If you remove that $1.967 trillion from the equation–as Lee suggests–you’re left with $1.863 trillion in spending to work with. At this point, balancing the budget–i.e., wringing $1.669 trillion in savings out of that last $1.863 trillion–would require slashing every government program that’s not defense or Social Security (Medicare, Medicaid, veterans affairs, education, and so on) by 89.6 percent.
Republican candidates like Lee and Marco Rubio (FL) like to act as if reducing the federal budget is a simple task that involves rooting out waste, fraud, and eliminating programs that nobody likes. But Lee’s plan would involve a nearly 90 percent reduction in the health care entitlements, education funding, and other discretionary programs like federal highway funding, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Are such reductions practical or economically advisable? Of course not. But Lee’s willing to stoke the Tea Party into a frenzy with his talk of balanced budgets and a government shutdown.