Tea Party Math

I’m about as liberal as they come, but when push comes to shove, the tea party has many valid points about the size of the government, balancing the budget, and the government’s role in our lives.  It’s just that most of them make these points in as batshit crazy a way as possible.

It’s hard to take them serious when they want to balance the budget, cut taxes, slash the Fed budget (except not defense and social security, which are the two largest federal expenditures), etc.  They’re all over the place in their fantasyland and none of them want to make concrete assertions about balancing the budget (this plan by Esquire, which would balance the budget by 2020, isn’t bad at all).

The math doesn’t add up and no one, not even the media (who’s more interested in talking about a girl who got her shoulder stepped on at a Rand Paul rally), seems willing to call any of the Republicans out on this.  And until they specifically say this is exactly how we want to balance the budget and this is how many years it will take, it’s impossible to take any of them seriously.

Let’s tackle the revenue side of the equation first. Under Obama’s 2011 budget, the Bush tax cuts would expire for the over-$250,000 crowd–a move that would produce an estimated $402 billion boost in revenue. By extending the Bush cuts, however, Lee & Co. would forgo that extra revenue, meaning they’d start out with $402 billion less spending money than Obama–and a deficit of $1.669 trillion instead of $1.267 trillion.

Closing this bigger budget gap would require a bigger overall spending cut–44 percent, to be exact (hence Lee’s estimate of “40 percent”). But here’s the rub: by taking defense and Social Security off the table, Lee & Co. would be required to carve that 44 percent out of a much smaller slice of the pie, and therefore make much larger cuts to the programs that would be affected.

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.

So yes, it’s important to have this conversation, but not if you’re doing so in crazy, hypothetical land.  No option should be off the table at this point to get the country out of debt, tighten fiscal responsibility, etc.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Zobeid Zuma October 28, 2010, 8:46 am

    Please don't make blanket statements like "none of them want to make concrete assertions about balancing the budget". I'm one of them, and I want to see the Sacred Cows cut down to size. The reason we got into this mess is because entitlements (medicaid/medicare/welfare/unemployment) are sacred to Democrats, defense is sacred to Republicans, and social security is sacred to both — and none of them can ever be cut, they can only grow fatter. Well, that's got to change.

    My litmus test for Republicans is: "Are you ready to cut defense?" It's the second largest slice in the federal pie chart, a close second only to social security. We're spending as much on defense as the next 12 countries in the world combined. I can't take anyone seriously who advocates balancing the budget but is against cutting defense. (Or put another way: As much as we're borrowing from China, who do you think the US Army will end up belonging to, if we continue on this path?)

    It's all very well for you to complain that few Tea Partiers are talking about where, specifically, to cut the budget. . . That's true, I don't hear it come up often, even though I always try to raise the issue. The other side of that coin is that Tea Party opponents rarely acknowledge any need to reduce spending at all!

    • jamesfurbush October 28, 2010, 9:11 am

      Zobeid — thank you for your comments. To be fair, you're 100% right. To get this country back on track it's going to take sacrifices on both sides. I didn't mean to not include most the spending habits of most liberals, it's just that I was reacting to an article specifically about certain Tea Party candidates and should've taken a second before posting.

      There's a lot that needs to change and more than anything we need sensible people like you (and me, I'd like to think) to start challenging politicians on both sides to come up with a reasonable plan.