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.