Get Rid of All The Discretionary Spending

Brian Doss tries to defend Jacob Levy’s odd math. Let’s recap the state of play. Jacob wants to close the gap between expenditures and revenues, currently running at around $500 billion. He also wants to privatize social security, which will cost $1 trilliion over a period of several years. He also wants to “get serious” about the war on terrorism and Middle East democracy promotion: Right now, the Iraq War is costing about $100 billion off-budget per year. Jim Turner proposed democratization initiative has an $11 billion per year price tag, which probably isn’t enough, but we’ll stick with that. And Jacob also wants to see taxes cut further. I contend that this could only be achieved by dismembering Medicare.

Brian’s thought is that this is wrong, and we could achieve our savings through the 33% of the budget dedicated to domestic discretionary spending. This, as Steve Verdon writes is around $424 billion per year. So if we just eliminated that, we would still be left with a $76 billion deficit, before Levy’s new spending initiatives and new tax cuts. Let’s also note that eliminating domestic discretionary spending is not exactly consistent with getting serious about terrorism, since that figure includes all of our homeland security spending. It also includes the money to do such minor things as keep the electricity on in the White House and other government buildings. FBI? Gone. Indeed, all federal law enforcement agencies would be gone, along with all federal prosecutors and all federal judges. All federal regulations whatsoever would be unenforceable without money to pay the salaries of the regulators. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of wedded to the idea that someone is watching our nuclear waste and making sure the plants don’t melt down. Eliminating national parks strikes me as a good idea, but a good libertarian would favor turning those into private fee-for-service enterprises, so I won’t complain. Much federal highway spending is wasteful, but not spending anything on our highways doesn’t seem like a very good idea, either. I could go on.

The point is that even if you did this, you would not close the budget deficit, much less make room for new spending on SS privatization or military and foreign affairs (indeed, you would have to close all the embassies, since Steve includes the foreign operations budget in his “other” category) much less tax cuts. Eliminating federal education spending, moreover, would, as I indicated in the original post, make federal vouchers policy a bit superfluous. It can’t be done like this. If you want even less revenue than we have now and you want a balanced budget, you need to cut defense spending and Medicare — pretty drastically — both of which are projected to grow a great deal according to current estimates of our national needs.