Absolutely Profligate

Mitt Romney's spending "cuts" would expand the federal budget.

Presenting his fiscal plan in USA Today last week, Mitt Romney said he wants to "eliminate every government program that is not absolutely essential." That sounds good until you realize that Romney's goal of cutting $500 billion from projected federal outlays in 2016 would, at best, leave the budget about 8 percent higher than it is now and only 11 percent lower than it would be without any attempt to restrain spending.

The implication: Mitt Romney thinks 89 percent of what the federal government does is "absolutely essential." And that's what he says when he is trying to appeal to the fiscally conservative Republicans whose votes he will need to win his party's presidential nomination. Who knows what he really thinks, assuming he has any firm convictions at all on this crucial question.

The specific cuts highlighted by Romney suggest he does not. He predictably zeroes in on the National Endowment for the Arts, a favorite target of conservatives, but he does not zero it out. Instead he recommends "deep reductions" in the NEA's funding, which was $155 million this year, or 0.004 percent of the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Likewise, he wants to cut but not eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Getting rid of these three programs, which are not "absolutely necessary" by any stretch of the imagination, would save less than $1 billion a year, about 0.02 percent of the total budget. What does it say about Romney's commitment to fiscal restraint that he can't even go that far?

Regarding foreign aid, Romney bravely takes a stand against giving taxpayer money to "countries that oppose America's interests" but does not name any. It seems safe to assume he would make only minor cuts to the foreign aid budget, which in any event accounts for just 1 percent of federal spending.

Romney wants to "eliminate subsidies for the unprofitable Amtrak," which he says would save $1.6 billion a year, and "eliminate Title X family planning programs benefiting abortion groups like Planned Parenthood," which cost about $300 million a year. The only big-ticket item on his list of illustrative cuts is ObamaCare, which he wants to repeal, thereby saving $95 billion in 2016. All together, these cuts represent less than 3 percent of federal spending in 2011 and less than 8 percent of the $1.3 trillion deficit.

Romney also wants to increase spending, saying he would "undo the Obama administration's irresponsible defense cuts." President Obama has asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to find $450 billion in savings during the next decade, which would reduce projected military spending by 6 percent, still leaving the Pentagon's budget bigger in 2021 than it is today.

Our so-called defense budget, which has nearly doubled since 2001, was $700 billion in 2011 (including spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). It accounts for more than two-fifths of the world's military spending, about 10 times our share of the world's population.

In this context, Obama's defense "cuts" are irresponsible only in the sense that they do not go nearly far enough. Any politician who insists that the U.S. continue to police the globe—maintaining alliances that have lost their reason for existing, defending wealthy countries that are perfectly capable of defending themselves, and engaging in one optional war after another—has no credibility when he promises to "eliminate every government program that is not absolutely essential."

But let's assume Romney can reach his target while recklessly expanding the Pentagon's already bloated budget. Where will that get us? "I will put us on a path to a balanced budget," he said in his speech to Americans for Prosperity last week. Translation: I will never balance the budget. By contrast, the plan outlined by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), one of Romney's rivals in the race for the Republican nomination, would balance the budget by 2015.

Clearly, Paul's idea of "absolutely essential" government programs is a bit narrower than Romney's. But whose isn't?

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Xenocles||

    Threadjack for a moment to remind all of my fellow federal employees that they can purchase libertarian indulgences through the Combined Federal Campaign. Yes, the Reason Foundation is listed in your catalog. Even better, every donation directed at Reason through the CFC pulls money from the pool of undesignated donations. It's like taking money directly from the poor and buying new monocles for Nick and Matt!

  • rather||

    Just think if you farted in jars and kept them until you could donate them? What a great day when you could power someone else's CH4mobile around town. Shoot for the stars!

  • ||

    rather's psycho-sexual stalker = worse than rather

    Just for the record.

  • Bill||

    Odd, that you find farting in a jar sexually stimulating. But that's why we're libertarians. Whatever floats your boat, dude!!

    Sorry, it's early .......

  • ||

    Gee, a few thousand more fart in a jar posts and I may finally get my rocks off!

    Good thing it's not considered "trolling."

  • ||

    I can almost taste their sweet, sweet tears.

  • Tears? Sado-Libertarianism...||

    ...is in the house!

  • Suki||

    Funding Reason through a federal organ they want to abolish? Sounds so Democratic and communal.

  • It's only collectivist...||

    ...when other people do it.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Its funny because its like using statism against itself. I have no problem with it. I encourage these kinds of hilarious conflicts.

  • Reason=Establisment Apologists||

    ...of course they'd be in the Combined Federal Campaign catalog.

  • Suki||

    I, for one, advocate a repeal of CFCs.

  • Do you advocate repeal...||

    ...of big-government regulations creating artificial borders that restrict the free movement of people, enforced via Land enTitlement programs?

    Officer, am I free to gambol about forest and plain?

  • Only City-STATE bootlickers...||

    ...are welcome in a Big Government catalog.

  • fish||

    It's a Rectal state of mind.

  • Suki||

    Prediction: Morning Links will be labeled 9:00AM.

  • Suki||

    I am beginning to believe this competition is rigged somehow.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that would vote third party if Romney gets the nomination. It's a win win, really. If Romney wins, Obama will win the general, finally putting the last nail into the coffin of the GOP. If someone else gets the GOP nod, Romney can go home and never come out again.

  • Bill||

    That guy in the terraforming picture is starting to look pretty good as a 3rd party candidate.

  • Marty Feldman||

    He's got the eyes.

  • ||

    I still say Obama is a better choice than Romney if it comes down to it, let Obama fuck things up for four more, then the pendulum can swing towards someone like Rand Paul or, ideally, Gary Johnson to cross the Rubicon and stave off complete collapse for a few years.

  • Ron Paul=accelerated collapse||

    But then, that's good. Which is why I'm voting for him.

    Thesis #27: Collapse increases quality of life.
    by Jason Godesky | 13 January 2006
    http://rewild.info/anthropik/thirty/

  • White Indian endorses Ron Paul||

    dancing 'round the fire

    White Man's Ghost Dance,

    Conjuring the Golden Past.

    Wovoka has spoken.

  • Monte Burns||

    Tell you what White Indian...we come back and everybody is dead...I owe you a Coke.

  • Have a KOCH and a smile||

  • Joe M||

    Yeah, the problem with Romney winning is that the fiscal conservatives will get really quiet all of a sudden, thus destroying even the tiny rhetorical progress that's been made in the last few years.

  • tiny rhetorical progress?||

    2000+ comments on the weekend Hit&Run; thread isn't tiny.

  • ||

    Probably so, plus we'd be looking at a guaranteed eight more years of it, either two terms of Romney or Romney and another Keynesian dem.

  • Fiscal Responsibility||

    ...is a debate convenience to conservatives, much like the NAP is to libertarians.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "let Obama fuck things up for four more"

    Want to hear a scary thought? Eight or more, more.

  • Masshole Society||

    We humans will figure out how to run Mass Society within the next decade or so.

    Really, it's going to happen, soon.

    Thomas Jefferson was completely in error when he said: "When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe."

    And only the insane would be against Mass Society.

    Against Mass Society
    www.primitivism.com/mass-society.htm

    Lock up any man against the city-state as enemies of the city-State, I say!

  • Imagine||

  • All the People||

  • Living inside Rectals head!||

    !

  • Joe M||

    Yep, Romney is full of shit. He has no plans to cut much of anything, but is making symbolic attacks on things Republicans traditionally don't like. It's the most predictable, cliche list of pseudo-cuts I've ever seen, proving that Romney really is a principle-free mushy middle opportunist.

  • invisible furry hand||

    Cut the guy some slack - he's befuddled by the fumes from inhaling hair spray for decades

  • Elect my hair||

    Ain't that America
    Land of the free
    Little pink houses for you and me.

  • principle-free mush||

    That's descriptive of Conservatism and Libertarianism and Liberalism.

    They are all wrong.

    Mostly say hurray for our side.

  • ||

    I see the new check cleared.

  • Conspiracy replaces arguement||

    ...when one finds himself being out-competed in the marketplace of ideas by the greatest thinker of all time, White Indian.

  • Beloved Rev. Blue Moon||

    I reiterate the SugarFree pledge.

  • Can't compete?||

  • with my psychoses.||

    !

  • Richard Head||

    What?? He's not zeroing in on waste & fraud??

  • invisible furry hand||

    Well, he is pledging to walk around government buildings and turn off any lights left on in empty rooms.

  • Libertarian Dum-Dums||

    You dum-dums want to use the power of the agricultural city-STATE to enforce your artificial land enTITLEment schemes. These are just arbitrary restrictions on the free movements of people.
    Officer, am I free to gambol?

  • ||

    Living in Utah, the support for this guy is everywhere. Quite frankly, it's disgusting. What with the Glenn Beck nod he got, I guess it makes sense, but still, I thought at least a couple Mormons had some semblance of constitutional pride.

    This morning on campus, I saw a Romney sticker, "Vote for Aquafresh," and a picture of him with the whitest Photoshopped smile you've ever seen. I just stared at it for a few minutes in fascination. I couldn't tell if it was a joke or not. If not... wow. I mean people have actual pride in thinking someone would vote for their candidate based on that? That's Obama campaign level stupid. There goes another chip in the faith I had in humanity...

  • ||

    Take it from a victim Still living in Mass post Romney. He has no intentions of "cutting" anything. He is a RINO and at best a Progressive Hack.

  • ||

    I'm glad to hear from you. I met a girl from Boston who thought Romney was "the next Ronald Reagan," as she put it. At least, from what I can tell, Reagan held principles. Romney's as RINO as they come. He is a modern Nixon.

  • ecian||

    We. Are. Doomed.

  • ola||

    I guess Romney's magic salamander didn't attend economics class.

  • ||

    Newt, haha. Save the drama for ya mama and vote Obama!

  • Marc by Marc Jacobs Handbag||

    Mr. Marc Jacobs is a legend

  • تاجير معدات||

    thank you a lotsssssssssssssss

  • مطلوب عماره||

    thank you a lotsssssssssssssss

  • cheap jordan 2U||

    good

  • حضك لسنة 2012||

    thanks

  • jackets||

    good

  • دردشة زين العراق||

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement