When Rep. Paul Ryan released his latest budget proposal, he predicted that critics would label it an austerity budget—despite the fact that his budget merely slows the annual rate of federal spending growth from 5 percent to 3.4 percent. And of course he was right, and critics have gone after his budget for cutting spending even though it doesn't actually cut spending at all.
So you can expect an even stronger reaction when those same folks see what Ryan's colleague Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) has to say about Ryan's budget plan in The New York Times today. The short version? Broun says he can't support it—because it doesn't cut spending nearly enough.
Supporters of the "Path to Prosperity," including many of my fellow Republicans, say that we have to stop spending money we don't have, an idea I promote every chance I get. But under the proposal by Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, the federal government would continue to spend more than it will this year.
Spending would grow by an average of 3.4 percent annually, only slightly less than the rate under President Obama's plan, which is 5 percent a year. After 10 years — Mr. Ryan's target for eliminating the deficit — the "Path to Prosperity" will have spent $41 trillion, when the president's plan would allow spending of $46 trillion. My party's de facto position has become "we're increasing spending, but not as much as the other guy." That's not good enough.
Just reducing growth in spending does almost nothing. We have to dig deeper and make profound cuts now. We cannot continue to assume that future Congresses will do our dirty work for us.
We ought to get rid of certain federal departments and agencies, stopping only to shift the role of governing back to the states, where it belongs. The Departments of Education and Energy, for example, are two bloated bureaucracies that we don't need; their core functions would be absorbed by the states through block grants, saving taxpayers at least $500 billion over the next decade.
Note that Broun isn't proposing to eliminate every single function of the two agencies: Instead, he's proposing to let states manage energy and education regulation using block grants provided by the federal government.
If you want an idea of what these sorts of federal agencies do (and spend), you can check out the Department of Energy's FY2013 budget request. The highlight document's introduction points to President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address, which, it reminds us, "called on us to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world as the United States faces 'our generation's Sputnik moment.'" The price tag of continuing to shoot for that Sputnik moment? About $27 billion, up 3.2 percent from the previous year.
And here's the Education Department's budget page, which notes that "it is important to point out that education in America is primarily a State and local responsibility, and ED's budget is only a small part of both total national education spending and the overall Federal budget." The Education Department's current annual budget is just over $68 billion.