May 09, 2011 12:11 pm ET - by Matt Finkelstein
On Friday, Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) published a joint op-ed in Human Events imploring Republican leaders not to raise the debt ceiling without extracting "significant concessions" from President Obama on spending cuts or health care reform. Given their reputation as members of the "Crazy Caucus," the trio's eagerness to risk an economic catastrophe by playing political games isn't surprising. However, a tangential part of their argument — in which they call out Republican leaders for failing to keep campaign promises — actually makes sense:
On the other hand, House Republicans in the Pledge to America last fall said, if given the majority, we would save at least $100 billion in the first year alone. Nonetheless, after taking over the majority in the House, the Republicans began crying time out, we do not have a full year to make $100 billion in cuts, it must be prorated for only the remaining months of the year. That meant that the $100 billion in cuts for the year would only be $61 billion. Incredibly, a majority of the press and the American people were willing to give us a pass. They accepted $61 billion in cuts as satisfying that part of our pledge. Unfortunately, Republican leaders ultimately said that $39 billion was all that could be secured. According to the Congressional Budget Office, we are told that the amount of actual cuts was only $352 million.
Having fallen short of the pledge, some leaders now claim that the best opportunities to save trillions are yet to come through passage of Rep. Ryan's "Pathway to Prosperity" budget. Yet many Americans are left to wonder, "If they can't keep their word on billions of dollars in cuts, how can we trust their word to make trillions of dollars in cuts?" Some of us also think 26 years is still too long to balance our budget.
Notwithstanding the CBO analysis of the budget deal, which concluded that it will "only reduce federal outlays by $352 million below 2010 spending rates," House Republicans officially count their promise to cut spending by $100 billion this year as a pledge fulfilled. In doing so, they point to the passage of H.R. 1 in February (which contained the abovementioned $61 billion in cuts), even though the bill never stood any chance of becoming law. Needless to say, holding a meaningless vote on a bill that had no support from congressional Democrats or the White House doesn't actually count as an accomplishment.
Furthermore, Gohmert, King, and Bachmann's frustration that the House-passed "Pathway to Prosperity" won't balance the budget for 26 years is understandable. In fact, it won't eliminate the deficit ever without privatizing Medicare — an idea from which Bachmann and others are quickly retreating.
There is, however, another proposal that would move much more quickly than the House Republican plan. As The Economist notes, while the GOP plan "promises to balance the budget by sometime in the 2030s by cutting programmes for the poor and the elderly," the Congressional Progressive Caucus has offered a plan that would "balance the budget by 2021 by cutting defence spending and raising taxes, mainly on rich people."
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