NEW YORK -- Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell disagreed with current proposals to cut the deficit on Sunday, saying that going after small programs one by one -- and not touching military and entitlement spending -- won't be effective in solving the country's long-term budget problems.
Last week, the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House GOP caucus, announced that it aims to return non-defense spending to 2008 levels and non-security spending to 2006 levels. It would cut funding for veterans programs, scientific research at the Department of Energy, Homeland Security, transportation, housing, education, legal services, foreign aid and the arts. The RSC proposal would save an estimated $16.1 billion by rolling back federal Medicaid funding, putting the burden for those patients on state and local governments.
On Sunday's "State of the Union," Powell told host Candy Crowley that Congress needed to deal with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if it wanted to balance the budget, and that announcing a spending freeze was an "inefficient way" of cutting the deficit:
But the real money in the entitlements, it's Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. And unless we do something about those, you can't balance the budget. You can't fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn't do it. And I'm very put off when people just say let's go back and freeze to the level two years ago.
Don't tell me you're going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you're going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.
The RSC document also doesn't go after defense spending, even though Republicans, Democrats and many Tea Party activists have all called for putting the military's budget on the table. Powell said that was a mistake.
"As we draw down from Iraq and as over the next several years as we draw down from Afghanistan, I see no reason why the military shouldn't be looked at," he said. "When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and Mr. Cheney was secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don't think the defense budget can be made, you know, sacrosanct and it can't be touched."
On CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that Congress must take on some of the "sacred cows," including entitlements, in order to cut the deficit. "Agriculture subsidies are outrageous today," he said. "Ethanol is a joke, and it's a multi-billion dollar spending. All ag subsidies. ... The post office, a model of inefficiency. Horse and buggies -- and the days when Internets [sic] and communications are basically replacing it more and more."
In response to Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) comment on NBC's "Meet the Press" that even cancer research funding needs to be on the table, McCain -- a cancer survivor -- said that while there are probably inefficiencies, it would be one of the last areas he'd go after.