Republican Candidates Offer Big Talk, Few Ideas On Cutting Government Spending

October 20, 2010 10:41 am ET — Kate Conway

As midterm election season has heated up over the last few months, incumbents and new candidates alike have stepped up to the microphone to detail their plans for the country. Except sometimes — and with increasing frequency in the Republican camp — those plans have included very few actual details.

Republican candidates have leaned hard on the promise to cut spending and reduce the deficit, but when confronted with the reality that much of the federal budget goes to popular social welfare programs like Medicare, the stammering and yammering begins. Everyone seems loathe to name a substantial program he or she would be willing to axe.

The non-specificity extends to the entire Republican agenda, as laid out in the lengthy "Pledge to America," which garnered ready ridicule even from other prominent conservatives. The Fiscal Times described the Pledge as "sweeping" but "short of detail" and pointed out:

Republicans offered no detail on which programs they would cut or how "hard" the future "cap'' would be. Even if the cuts were identified and approved by Congress, the savings would be almost entirely offset by the Republicans' plan to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.

More surprisingly, the plan offers no proposals on the government's long-term fiscal nightmare - the soaring costs of Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs.

With a plan like that, the abysmal approval ratings for congressional Republicans make sense. What is baffling, however, given anti-incumbent sentiments this election cycle, is that congressional hopefuls are emulating the empty rhetoric of incumbents instead of offering original or substantive ideas.

Christine O'Donnell (R), for one, showed up to the Delaware Senate debate against Chris Coons (D) unprepared to deliver any specifics. Salon wrote that "[o]n issue after issue, O'Donnell stuck with hollow platitudes, frequently contradicting herself when pressed for clarity. She called the national debt one of the country's most pressing challenges, but then insisted that the Bush deficit-inflating tax cuts be extended across the board. Asked to identify specific budget cuts she'd support - and admonished not to cite the old standby of 'waste, fraud and abuse' - she devoted more than half of her response to railing against 'waste, fraud and abuse.'"

Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott (R) may have the biggest issue with planning, as he has a knack for creating brand new conundrums for himself. For example, The Tampa Tribune reports that Scott wants to expand a school voucher program, but has already promised to end the same corporate income tax that funds it. Of course, he has no plan to solve this problem:

Ironically, the gubernatorial candidate proposing to expand vouchers tied to the corporate income tax also wants to eliminate the tax completely.

As part of his plan to create about 700,000 jobs over seven years, Scott intends to phase out the corporate income tax over that period. His campaign said he does not have a solution to the funding problem for the vouchers program, but will find one.

Scott would also like to see a cut in property taxes that support public education. This part of his plan also comes up a little bit short logistically, given that it relies on a miraculous economic rebound and — drum roll — as-yet-undisclosed spending cuts:

Scott is already proposing to cut property taxes that support public education by $1.4 billion. Schools won't lose a dime, he says, because his plan to resuscitate the economy will boost tax collections while he slashes other areas of state spending. But he has yet to specify all of the reductions he would make, however, and some that he has proposed - such as cutting the prisons budget by more than one-third -- have groups like police unions declaring his plan will harm the public.

In an exchange with Fox News host Chris Wallace, California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina refused to explain what entitlement programs she'd cut to pay for the Bush-era tax cuts she insists must be extended — at huge cost to the federal government. When Wallace pressed the issue, Fiorina accused him of asking a "typical political question."

Similar vagueness plagues Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey, both of whom offered vague solutions like "cutting spending" to offset the increase in the deficit that would result from an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Maryland gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder both promised their own tax cuts but were unable to explain how they would offset the resulting holes in their respective states' budgets.

One Republican — Wisconsin Senate candidate Ron Johnson — at least gets points for honesty. Johnson went ahead and admitted that he had no intention of telling the people he might one day represent what benefits he planned to deprive them of. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Johnson told the Milwaukee Press Club: "There's billions of dollars . . . that from my standpoint would be available for cutting. But I'm not going to get in the game here and, you know, start naming specific things to be attacked about, quite honestly."