Today, the House Republicans sent a letter [PDF] to the president outlining a proposal to save some $375 billion over the next five years from the federal budget. Sounds pretty good, right? Except, predictably enough, $375 billion isn't even close to what would be saved. Looking at the details of the Republican proposal reveals that it only saves about $5 billion a year -- less than a third of what Obama's savings proposal would cut.

The administration recently proposed $17 billion in budget cuts [PDF] this year as a down payment on deficit reduction, leading folks in the media and on the Right to criticize the plan for not going far enough to tackle the trillion dollar deficit, which would be larger on average without Obama's policies. At the time, Eric Cantor, the Republican House Whip and the real mover behind a lot of the GOP's congressional strategy, told the president in a somewhat tense meeting that his side would be offering their own ideas on budget savings. Republican Leader John Boehner told reporters that "over the next couple of weeks you’ll have a chance to see what real budget cuts look like.”

What do they look like? Well, they look ridiculous! The AP explains what's going on pretty well (and CNN is doing it wrong) but here's a more detailed breakdown of how you get from the Republican claim of $375 billion over five years to the real world number of $23 billion over five years (just $5 billion more than the White House proposal would save in one year).

  • We'll worry about the specifics later. The GOP proposes capping discretionary spending on a variety of domestic priorities, from veterans to education and roads, which is certainly one way to stop spending, even if it's a foolish one. But the GOP doesn't even bother to specify what programs would get cut. So a "real budget cut" apparently means promising to spend less in the future and not saying how you would do it. The last time the GOP proposed this kind of fuzzy thinking, they were ridiculed by reporters. This proposal is not going to get anywhere in congress, so subtract $317 billion from the GOP number.
  • What, you're already doing that? The Republicans are promising to use repaid TARP funding for deficit reduction. It's a good idea -- so good, in fact, that it's already worked into the budget. TARP repayments are already set to go back into the Treasury and aren't earmarked for any other purpose. Subtract $45 billion from the GOP number.

That leaves us with the $23 billion over five years number, which comes from cutting spending on things like the "Safe Routes to School" program and consolidating other programs. Some of those ideas may even be good, and I hope the administration uses them. But it's completely nuts for Republicans to attack Obama's deficit reduction efforts -- which specifically highlighted exactly how funding would get cut -- and then put forward their own voodoo economics reductions that depend on a future congress agreeing to restrain spending. Sure, that'll happen.

When the president announced his cuts, the Washington Post referred to them as "modest trims." I wonder what they'll call the GOP's plan? This isn't the first time the GOP has had trouble with budgets -- there was the aforementioned "alternate budget" whose release was bungled not once but twice (the second bite at the apple occurred on April Fool's Day) and of course the famously fake CBO report about the stimulus legislation. Three strikes and you're out, guys.

-- Tim Fernholz

You may also like