The selection of self-proclaimed budget guru Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate was supposed to signal the campaign’s return to “serious issues,” according to Republican strategists. And yet, when given the opportunity to list specific programs he and Ryan would eliminate to reach the $9.6 trillion in non-defense savings they have promised by 2022, Romney wasted no time targeting the lowest-hanging of partisan fruits:
So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs—the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Vowing to cut funding for liberal institutions like NPR and PBS may be effective as red meat for the Republican base, but it does next to nothing to close the budget deficit. The Washington Post’s Suzy Khimm breaks down the savings:
In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $1.42 billion on Amtrak, $444 million on PBS, and $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies would have saved the government about $2 billion this year—chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.
Meanwhile, repealing Obamacare would actually increase the deficit in 2013 by $34 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, as the law’s net savings exceeds its expenditures.
Romney says he would also layoff 10 percent of the federal workforce and cut compensation and benefits to a level comparable with the private sector, which CBO estimates would save around $28 billion annually (about $20 billion less than Romney’s team estimates). For those of you keeping score at home, that brings the net savings from Romney’s proposals to negative $4 billion.
But Romney also proposes turning major federal social programs like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) over to the states, which would cut critical support for the nation’s poor and disabled. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the block grant system in Ryan’s budget plan would cut $37 billion from Medicaid in 2014 and $810 billion by 2022—a 22 percent spending cut that would cause between 14 and 27 million low income people to lose their health insurance. SNAP would be cut by $134 billion, eliminating food security for between 8 and 10 million people.
Such draconian cuts are politically untenable. But even if a Romney administration were able to gut the social safety net in the way his budget suggests, those savings would still pale in comparison to the trillion-dollar deficit the government currently runs. What’s more, those savings barely cover the $2.1 trillion increase in military spending that Romney has promised over the next ten years. In fact, if Romney’s numbers are to be believed, nearly two-thirds of the money saved in the Ryan budget over the next ten years by cutting programs for low income families would be spent on “[increasing] the number of active-duty [military] personnel by approximately 100,000,” buying new military equipment and “[investing] in the coming technologies of warfare.”
But surely Romney never intended for his budget to be taken so seriously. Because to actually reduce non-defense federal spending to below 16 percent of GDP, as Romney has promised to do by 2016 without touching Medicare or Social Security for a decade, every remaining government program would have to shrink by 40 percent by the third year of Romney’s presidency, and by 57 percent within ten years. This is either an absurd, ideological fantasy or an embarrassing mathematical mistake. Likely conservatives are too busy salivating over the demise of public broadcasting to notice.