Yesterday, House Republicans rolled out their “Pledge to America,” which is supposedly a series of ideas that the GOP would enact tomorrow, if given the chance. At the top of the list, of course, is a full extension of the Bush tax cuts — at a cost of almost $4 trillion — and a promise to allow no tax increases.
At the same time, though, the Pledge claims to put the country “on a path to a balanced budget.” But when it comes to spending cuts, it is incredibly vague, including only a promise to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to the 2008 level and to “set benchmarks” for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Today, in fact, the lead architect of the Pledge, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), couldn’t name a single program that he’d cut from the federal budget when pressed by MSNBC’s Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd:
GUTHRIE: Everybody likes to cut spending, but the issue is where, how? What specifically are you going to cut? [...]
MCCARTHY: What are you going to cut? Discretionary spending. Anything that’s not security…
TODD: Well, hang on. What is discretionary? Give us two or three items that are discretionary.
MCCARTHY: You could go through every different program within government, outside of entitlements, outside of national defense, that is discretionary spending that Congress has control of. That has gone over 88 percent in the last two years.
GUTHRIE; So what comes to mind for that, if you could wave a magic wand and do it unilaterally, what would you cut?
TODD: If you had the line item.
MCCARTHY: The line item would be across-the-board.
With the Pledge, McCarthy and the rest of the House Republicans make it seem like eliminating the deficit with cuts to discretionary spending is both possible and simple. But discretionary spending this year will be about $1.4 trillion. So almost all of it would have to be cut — including discretionary defense spending — to eliminate the deficit.
The non-defense discretionary side of the budget — which includes all federal education funding, FEMA, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Park System, federal highway funding, food safety inspection, and the Secret Service — comes to about $530 billion, nowhere near enough to eliminate the deficit. And as The Wonk Room explains, if the Pledge were actually enacted, Republicans would be starting from an even deeper fiscal hole, as deficits over the next ten years would be $1.5 trillion higher than they would be under President Obama’s budget.