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The Romney Budget is Even More Radical Than the Ryan Budget

Mitt Romney doesn’t want to own the Paul Ryan budget. I think it’s a little late for that.

Shortly after Romney announced that Ryan would be his running mate, his campaign put out the word that, by embracing Ryan, Romney wasn’t also embracing his controversial budget. Here’s an excerpt from the official campaign talking points, obtained by CNN from “a Republican source”:

Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.

Smarter analysts were quick to point out that Romney had praised Ryan’s budget in clear, strong terms during the campaign for the Republican nomination. In March, for example, Romney said “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan” and, later, “I think it'd be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president.”

True, Romney never endorsed the details of Ryan’s budget. But Romney never endorses the details of anything. And it’s not really the details of Ryan’s budget that matter. It’s the broad brushstrokes—the decision to place a tight cap on overall federal spending, to end the federal guarantees of Medicare and Medicaid, to dramatically reduce funding on programs for low-income people, and to give large tax breaks to the wealthy.

Romney has endorsed all of those things—and not just by implication. He’s called for turning Medicare into a voucher system, although he’d theoretically preserve the government-run plan for people who want it. He’s said he would turn Medicaid into a block grant. And he’s called for a tax cut that, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, would raise taxes on the middle class even as it reduces taxes on the wealthy—at least if Romney is serious about making his tax plan revenue-neutral.

Romney’s failure to provide actual budget numbers on these proposals has made it difficult to evaluate them individually—and, I’m sure, it’s spared him some of the scrutiny he’d otherwise get. But Romney made one other promise that ought to make very clear what his plans would entail. He’s called for capping federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, while setting aside 4 percent of gross domestic product for defense spending.

Have I become obsessed with this spending cap? Yes I have. And for good reason. 

According to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—analysis that I’ve yet to see anybody, including the Romney campaign, challenge—that federal spending cap commits Romney to dramatic, even unprecedented cuts in federal spending. (See graph below.) From the Center's report:

For the most part, Governor Romney has not outlined cuts in specific programs. But if policymakers exempted Social Security from the cuts, as Romney has suggested, and cut Medicare, Medicaid, and all other entitlement and discretionary programs by the same percentage — to meet Romney’s spending cap, defense spending target, and balanced budget requirement — then non-defense programs other than Social Security would have to be cut 29 percent in 2016 and 59 percent in 2022. Without the balanced budget requirement, the cuts would be smaller but still massive, reaching 40 percent in 2022.
The cuts that would be required under the Romney budget proposals in programs such as veterans’ disability compensation, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for poor elderly and disabled individuals, SNAP (formerly food stamps), and child nutrition programs would move millions of households below the poverty line or drive them deeper into poverty. The cuts in Medicare and Medicaid would make health insurance unaffordable (or unavailable) to tens of millions of people. The cuts in non-defense discretionary programs — a spending category that covers a wide variety of public services such as elementary and secondary education, law enforcement, veterans’ health care, environmental protection, and biomedical research — would come on top of the deep cuts in this part of the budget that are already in law due to the discretionary funding caps established in last year’s Budget Control Act (BCA). …

And how would these cuts compare to the ones in Ryan’s budget? The Center addressed that, too:

Governor Romney’s cuts would be substantially deeper than those required under the austere House-passed budget plan authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). Over the 2014-2022 period, Romney would require cuts in programs other than Social Security and defense of $7 trillion to $10 trillion, compared with a little over $5 trillion under the Ryan budget. By 2022, Romney’s cuts would shrink non-defense discretionary spending — which, over the past 50 years, has averaged 3.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and has not fallen below 3.2 percent — to between 1.1 percent and 1.6 percent of GDP.

In that sense, I suppose, Romney is telling the truth. He hasn’t endorsed Ryan’s budget. He’s endorsed something even more severe.

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