If Republicans Regain Control of Congress What Spending Would They Actually Cut?

09/29/2010 07:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You may have heard that the Republicans released a "Pledge to America" plan, a budgetary blueprint which reads more like a Pledge to Bankrupt America plan (the sequel!). Sure they include red meat items like medical liability reform and stricter border enforcement, a pledge to "honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values" and copious pledges to reign in spending and attack our deficit and debt. Yet they were so short on specifics, that it got many wondering what they would actually cut. Considering the shrink-the-government Tea Party element infiltrating the Republican party, it's a question worth asking. President Obama spoke on CNBC last week and did what so far the mainstream media have failed to do: asked what the Tea Party actually wants to do to control spending. Here are his exact quotes:

"The problem that I've seen in the debate that's been taking place and in some of these Tea Party events is, I think they're misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here," said Obama. "As I said before, we had to take some emergency steps last year. But the majority of economists will tell you that the emergency steps we take are not the problem long-term. The problems long-term are the problems that I talked about earlier. We had two tax cuts that weren't paid for, two wars that weren't paid for. We've got a population that's getting older. We're all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down."

"So the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify, specifically, what would you do?" he added. "It's not enough just to say get control of spending. I think it's important for you to say, I'm willing to cut veterans' benefits or I'm willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits or I'm willing to see these taxes go up. What you can't do, which is what I've been hearing a lot from the other side, is we're going to control government spending, we're going to propose $4 trillion of additional tax cuts, and that magically somehow things are going to work. Now, some of these are very difficult choices."

For all the Tea Partiers saying their Taxed Enough Already and practically foaming at the mouth for reduced government spending, there are areas like Defense that they would not cut or might even spend more on. We know they want to spend $700 billion dollars to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich without any plan to pay for it, which is the same plan they had when they enacted them in the first place. But as Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell puts it, America has issues with how much it spends, which he has only recently become aware of after eight Bush years borrowing from China to spend like crazy on tax cuts and wars:

"We have a spending problem. We spend too much. We don't have a taxing problem. We don't tax too little," McConnell told reporters. "And if we want to begin to get ourselves out of this economic trough that we're in, the only way to do that is to grow the private sector."

Ah, the private sector. That must be the one that shed millions of jobs through the Bush years and can't seem to bring any back now that we have a Democratic president and they have trillions in cash sitting on the sidelines. Mind you, the private sector also includes the banking industry, the health care industry and the agricultural industry, all of which believe they have a lot to lose if the status quo changes. I say "believe" because they could see change as a cause to innovate and prosper rather than as a threat. It is said the Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two characters, one that represents danger and the other, opportunity. But if you mask the danger so there is no "crisis" then you never have to confront the opportunity to change (talking to you, BP!) It takes real visionaries, captains of industry who see those opportunities and know that capitalism can help lift people up, rather than build on their backs. Wherever those visionaries are, they are not part of the Chamber of Commerce, who has spent millions opposing any regulation or policy that would change the status quo. Not to mention the tons of corporate-funded attack groups that are running anti-Democrat ads countrywide in an effort to keep their paid-for politicians in the drivers seat. So back to McConnell and the obstructionists on the Hill.

So what would the Republicans cut? What spending would be fair game for the budgetary chopping block? Just about everything besides Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is being borrowed for, including two wars, which Republicans seem to love to fight but not fund (remember Bush era budgets that did not include war spending? Still part of our national debt). They love unfunded mandates, such as the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which Bush and the Republicans put right on the national credit card. And it wasn't cheap. Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

Initially, the net cost of the program was projected at $400 billion for the ten-year period between 2004 and 2013. One month after passage, the administration estimated that the net cost of the program over the period between 2006 (the first year the program started paying benefits) and 2015 would be $534 billion. As of February 2009, the projected net cost of the program over the 2006 to 2015 period was $549.2 billion.

How bout that? One month after passage of a bill they didn't pay for, the Bush administration says it would cost $134 billion MORE than their previous estimates, which is still lower than what it actually wound up costing by about $15 billion. And still not paid for thanks to Bush and the Republicans. Interesting that the deficit and debt the Tea Partiers are frothing about were soaring during the Bush years, yet they didn't care one bit until Obama became President. Hard to understand how it was perfectly fine when Bush did it, but any effort by Obama to fix it is met with derision and obstruction. And their solution? Put Republicans back in charge of things. That's like giving a drunk the keys to the liquor cabinet again, except instead of a car they can crash the entire economy.

President Obama's bipartisan debt commission spoke at the National Governors Association not long ago and their message was ominous. "This debt is like a cancer," Erskine Bowles said in a sober presentation nonetheless lightened by humorous asides between him and co-chair Alan Simpson. "It is truly going to destroy the country from within." So if not to raise taxes or at the very least let unpaid-for tax cuts expire, what to cut and where and how much? At a meeting of the National Governors Association, Simpson and Bowles said that everything needs to be on the table, including curtailing many tax breaks and establishing a financial trigger mechanism for Medicare coverage. We'll hear their official suggestions in December, after the elections have dealt their cards.

So would the Republicans, faced with hard choices, consider everything to be fair game? There's been mention of cuts (or outright abolishment) for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Education. We know "ending tax breaks" would be called "raising taxes" by any Republican politician or Tea Partier but hard times call for hard measures and sacrifice. Or do they? Republicans have consistently shown that they know how to run up debt and lower taxes while avoiding paying for their actions. This recession was brought on by the policies of the Bush administration created with many of the Republicans whom are still in Congress. Since Obama was elected, the Republicans have done nothing but try and block any effort by his administration to fix the situation. A bad economy is good for Republicans who consistently put party and ideology before their country. And still, the debt will not go away. Here's debt commission chairman (and former Republican Senator) Alan Simpson, who enlightened the NGA attendees with the sobering fact that the entirety of the nation's current discretionary spending is consumed by the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs:

"The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget, is being financed by China and other countries," said Simpson. China alone currently holds $920 billion in U.S. IOUs. Bowles said if the U.S. makes no changes it will be spending $2 trillion by 2020 just for interest on the national debt.

Funny, those Bush tax cuts cost us around $2 Trillion; we could be paying down principle now! But we won't have a pot to piss in with the failed fiscal policy coming from the right side of the aisle. Aside from bankrupting and dismantling the entire government short of Defense, they have no ideas, no plan, just empty rhetoric and rank partisanship. Recently on Meet the Press, Republican Senators John Cornyn and Pete Sessions were unable to offer a single thing that Republicans would specifically do to reduce the deficit. The latest proposal floated by McConnell and crew to extend all the Bush tax cuts would literally double the Nation's deficit in ten years, a far cry from austerity. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's "roadmap" amounts to a boon for the rich and a tax hike for the poor. And all Republicans call for is spending cuts without being too specific as to what they would cut that would actually bring down the deficit. Considering President Bush went from the largest surplus in U.S. History to running a $2 trillion dollar debt, it is simply amazing that no Republican will even suggest how to pay for any of it while hypocritically lambasting Obama as if he dug that huge fiscal ditch to begin with. So we must keep asking- especially in light of the Republicans stellar record for fiscal failure, their love of unfunded mandates and a deep disdain for New Deal social safety programs- what would the Republicans really cut to balance the budget and get us out of debt?

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