The Fantasies of the Fiscally Irresponsible
by CA Pol Junkie
Andrew Sullivan tries to make the following claim sound reasonable:
So let's recap: I'm in favor of Bush's tax cuts, but want spending cuts to match them; I favor balanced budgets; I favored and favor the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, but want to execute them competently, with enough troops, and in adherence to America's long tradition of humane warfare; I oppose affirmative action and hate crime laws; I favor privatizing social security; I opposed the Medicare prescription drug entitlement; I want more money for defense, specifically more troops; ...
OK... so he says he favors tax cuts, offsetting spending cuts, balanced budgets, and more defense spending. It's the classic "If I were king" fantasy, where one does not need to conform to reality. Kevin Drum and Atrios have rightly called upon Sullivan to specify how he would balance the budget. Sullivan fails to provide the details, so let's help out King Andrew with the task before him. Let's start with reality, shall we, in particular Tables 5 and 7 of CBO budget data for the fiscal year 2005 budget (in billions) which already lacks the prescription drug program:
Defense: $493.6 (20.0%)
Non-defense discretionary: $474.3 (19.2%)
Mandatory spending: $1,320.3 (53.4%)
Interest: $184.0 (7.4%)
Deficit: 318.3 (12.9%)
Sounds reasonable, right? Just eliminate the prescription drug program and then cut everything by 13% and you're done! Oh, right, we're increasing defense (let's say to an even $500 billion) and we have to pay the interest on the debt, so here's our revised budget:
Non-defense discretionary: $474.3 (26.4%)
Mandatory spending: $1,320.3 (73.6%)
TOTAL touchable budget: $1,794.6
Deficit: $324.7 (18.1%)
Now we have to make an assumption as to whether King Andrew is a benign dictator or a malevolent one. A malevolent one wouldn't care that people were putting money into Social Security for their retirement, and just take their money while cutting their retirement benefits. That way everything balances if the government cuts spending by 18.1% on Social Security, medical care for the poor and elderly, AIDS research, student loans, the census, the State Department, etc. If King Andrew were a good king, however, and kept the promise the government made to Social Security, we would have the following:
Non-defense discretionary: $474.3 (37.2%)
Mandatory non-Social Security spending: $801.6 (62.8%)
TOTAL touchable budget: $1,275.9
Deficit: $498.2 (39.0%)
So, all King Andrew has to do is cut medical care for the elderly and the poor, scientific research, etc. by 39% to balance the budget. Back in reality, however, where America is (more or less) a democratic republic, we must deal with what is politically possible. The probability that any elected government, Republican or Democratic, will cut Social Security by 18% is zero. The probability that Medicare and Medicaid could be cut by 39% is zero. If support for a balanced budget is anything more than mere words, one absolutely can not support Bush's tax cuts. Unfortunately, there are way too many pretenders like Andrew Sullivan (and the entirety of the modern GOP) who prefer their own fantasyland to a world with real choices and real consequences.
UPDATE: Here is Sullivan's if-I-were-king "solution":
But my back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I'd keep the charitable deduction). For good measure, I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department.
Of his three cuts to Social Security (thus exposing himself as the "malevolent king"), only indexing to prices would have even the smallest possibility of passing any Congress. Eliminating the mortgage deduction and student loans (part of the Education Department) are complete non-starters. It's Sullivan's twisted blend of fantasy and reality which have turned our budget into the horrid monstrosity that it is.