Almost nobody likes to talk about cutting government during election season. Campaigns are a time to promise more—more spending! more tax cuts! more services!—not less.
Mitt Romney was more candid than the typical presidential aspirant, though not strategically unusual, when he told The Weekly Standard in 2012 that he was likely to prune back cabinet departments as president but refused to reveal which ones, on grounds that it might be used against him politically. "Will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes," Romney said, "but I'm not going to give you a list right now."
In this early stage of the 2016 campaign, Reason seeks to keep everyone's eyes on the prize of reducing the size and scope of government. Below, a guide to the candidates' and potential candidates' records on cutting government spending, especially during their terms in office but also in their policy positioning. At a time when our budgets are wildly unbalanced, when the national debt is at $18 trillion and growing, when debt service is poised to zoom past military spending during the next administration, and when baby boomer entitlements threaten to soak up half of government expenditures, there is no more important question to answer than this: What, at long last, are you willing to cut?
Ted Cruz (R)
U.S. senator from Texas (2013–present)
When the newly seated Republican-led Senate passed its first budget resolution in years this March, Ted Cruz praised his peers for getting it done, but voted against the resolution anyway. He was one of only two Republicans to do so—primary opponent Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) was the other.
"We need meaningful entitlement reforms, without budget gimmicks, and I cannot support a budget that claims to balance in the year 2025 by utilizing revenue increases generated by Obamacare taxes," Cruz said in a prepared statement explaining his vote.
Cruz's fiscal claim to fame was his willingness to shut down the federal government for 16 days in 2013 trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Ultimately neither his marathon speech nor the shutdown succeeded in winning the cuts he wanted, but fears that his brinkmanship would harm the GOP brand in the midterms also proved unfounded.
Fiscally, Cruz presents mostly familiar Republican views on government spending, with a few twists and with less willingness to compromise. In his short time in the Senate, he has consistently voted against budget funding bills and against increasing the federal debt limit. He voted against the 2014 Farm Bill, decrying the special interests involved and the expansion of food stamps and entitlements, but also complaining it wasn't good enough for farmers: "It fails to provide a true safety net for farmers in difficult years, fails to fully target assistance to those most in need, subsidizes massive agri-businesses, and fails to prioritize farm aid over duplicative programs, promoting unrelated programs from green energy to housing." He opposes ethanol subsides and the Renewable Fuel Standard and isn't afraid to say so on his campaign website or even to Iowans themselves at an agriculture summit in March. He has also called for the elimination of the U.S. Export-Import bank, blasting it for corruption and for subsidizing loans to countries with poor human rights records.
But like many of his conservative peers, he's not quite so restrained on spending he associates with national defense. Cruz is calling for massive boosts in immigration enforcement on the southern border, tripling the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, adding more helicopters and cameras, and completing the fence separating America from Mexico. Recently, when Paul and another primary contender, Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), introduced separate budget bills that increased defense spending by close to $200 billion over two years, Cruz was forced to pick a side. Rubio's new defense spending plan was not offset by cuts elsewhere; Paul's was. Cruz ultimately sided with Rubio, saying, "I think it is critical that we allocate the resources that are necessary to provide for our national security functions."
Rand Paul (R)
U.S. senator from Kentucky (2011–present)
Rand Paul is unusual in the 2016 presidential field in that he has issued three different detailed annual budgets as senator. Even more uncommon, the budgets call for spending cuts the likes of which Washington hasn't contemplated since the end of World War II. As Vox's Dylan Matthews observed in April, "The budgets, put together, represent the most radical vision of limited government ever presented by a major American presidential candidate (apart, perhaps, from Paul's father, Ron Paul)." Matthews probably didn't mean that as a compliment.
Like Republican politicians used to do, Paul has serially called for the shuttering of the Departments of Education and Energy. But like few have dared venture, he has also called at various points for eliminating the Departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. Overall military spending has been cut in most of his budget proposals, though mostly through a zeroing out of overseas war spending; non-war/deployment costs have actually increased. He has supported increasing the Social Security retirement age while means-testing benefits to future recipients, and he would convert all social welfare programs (such as Medicaid) into block grants to the 50 states. His campaign website says, "We must cut spending in all areas, particularly areas that are better run by state and local governments."
Paul has repeatedly aimed to balance the budget within five years, using spending cuts to get there. As observers await his full campaign budget proposal—particularly its outlays for the military—the news remains filled with Paul's dire warnings about the $18 trillion national debt. While Republican politics have largely moved away from debt-ceiling showdowns and sequestration cuts, Paul remains one of two senators (and presidential aspirants) to make immediate-term fiscal responsibility a centerpiece of his pitch.
Jeb Bush (R)
Governor of Florida (1999–2007)
At a Fox News debate during the run-up to the 2012 Republican primary, all eight of the GOP candidates present raised their hands when asked whether they would walk away from a budget deal that paired a dollar of tax increases with 10 dollars in spending cuts. No one on stage would take the spending cuts, even at such a lopsided ratio, if tax hikes were included.
Jeb Bush, the brother of President George W. Bush and the Republican governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, didn't run in the GOP primary that year. But a few months later, when he was asked during a House Budget Committee hearing whether he would agree to a similar deal, he said yes, angering conservative anti-tax activists in the process.
As governor, however, Bush took a reverse approach, repeatedly cutting taxes but allowing state spending to rise, especially in his final years in office. Under Bush, Florida's general fund spending jumped from $18 billion to $28.2 billion, and total state spending, which includes federal grants for Medicaid and other initiatives, rose from $45.6 billion to $66.1 billion, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. It was for this reason that the libertarian Cato Institute gave him a C grade in its annual report card on governors during his final year in office, despite regarding him as "one of the most aggressive tax-cutting governors in the nation."
Asked late last year about Bush's record as governor, his spokesperson told The Washington Times, "As Florida's chief executive, Gov. Bush cut taxes by more than $19 billion dollars for families and businesses. At the same time, budget reserves in the state rose from $1.3 billion in 1998 to $9.8 billion in 2006. His record on cutting taxes and exercising strong fiscal discipline speaks for itself."
Scott Walker (R)
Governor of Wisconsin (2011–present)
Gov. Scott Walker takes a hard line on spending. "I take a backseat to no one when it comes to cutting spending and fiscal responsibility," he wrote in his 2013 book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge. "We cut spending and turned a massive budget deficit into a sizable surplus."
Walker, a second-term Republican who was elected in 2010, spent much of his first year in office fighting a protracted battle over his plan to increase benefits contributions for public sector unions, a move that has saved Wisconsin state taxpayers more than $3 billion in the years since it was passed (see "The Did-Something Candidate," page 20). Simply requiring most of the state's public employees to contribute 6.8 percent from their paychecks to their own retirement resulted in a savings of $2.35 billion.
But Walker also cautions that he doesn't hate government. He doesn't like cuts just for their own sake. "Austerity is not hopeful or optimistic," he writes. And while Walker's reforms have produced real savings and made room in the budget for tax cuts, they haven't led to lower spending over time. Under Walker, increases in spending have slowed, but total spending rose from $42.8 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to an estimated $44.8 billion in 2014, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Per capita, the state's spending is the 11th highest in the nation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
One of the biggest spending drivers in the Badger State is Medicaid. And one reason why spending on the program has gone up is that Wisconsin's economy has improved relative to other states—and, as a result, the formula that governs matching federal funds for Medicaid has cut the federal share of the program.
Mike Huckabee (R)
Governor of Arkansas (1996–2007)
In fiscal year 1998—the first budget Mike Huckabee signed off on as governor—Arkansas spent $11.77 billion (in 2015 dollars). In his last budget, for fiscal year 2006, the figure was $17.66 billion. In the same period, the state's population growth was much more gentle, rising from 2.6 million to 2.8 million.
Nonetheless, Huckabee and his legislature balanced the budget each year, as state law requires, and they moved the state from a deficit to a surplus. Not surprisingly, given those substantial spending hikes, Arkansas under Huckabee saw a net increase in taxes.
Huckabee has defended the idea of giving people more control over their Social Security money, though he doesn't like to call this privatization. He is less enthusiastic about some of the other entitlement reform ideas on the table, and in April he blasted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for suggesting that the programs should be means-tested and that the retirement ages should be raised. (Doing that, Huckabee said, would mean the government "took money from its people under one pretense, and then took it away from them at the time they started wanting to actually get what they paid for all these years.") Huckabee has also never evinced any interest in reducing military spending.
Marco Rubio (R)
U.S. senator from Florida (2011–present)
In the waning days of 2012, as Congress struggled to come up with a deal to stave off mandatory tax increases brought by the so-called fiscal cliff, Sen. Marco Rubio bucked his party. Along with seven other senators, he voted nay on the laboriously negotiated bipartisan deal, objecting to the tax increases in the deal, and declaring: "I cannot support the arrangement they have arrived at. Rapid economic growth and spending reforms are the only way out of the real fiscal cliff our nation is facing. But rapid economic growth and job creation will be made more difficult under the deal reached here in Washington."
Rubio's signature legislative achievement as the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, a position he held in 2007–2009, was a complicated tax cut package that required heroic amounts of negotiation to push through. After the Cuban-American Republican arrived on Capitol Hill, he voted against the Budget Control Act of 2011, a.k.a. "sequestration," again citing concerns about the negative impacts of excessive taxation. He also voted against the largest Hurricane Sandy relief package. He rose to national prominence with his 2013 State of the Union response, which is remembered primarily for the awkward sip of water he grabbed partway through the speech.
Though Rubio has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative so far in the 2016 campaign, he hasn't shown nearly as much zeal for cutting government as he has for cutting taxes. Rubio offers run-of-the-mill Republican budgetary platitudes: He promises to limit budget growth by indexing a cap to per capita inflation. He also supports some reforms to entitlements, such as delaying the age of eligibility for Social Security. He did co-sponsor a (doomed) measure to require the federal government to hire only one new employee for every three that leave-legislation designed to reduce the size of the federal work force through attrition. But when it comes to defense, Rubio is more than generous with taxpayer money, most recently proposing a $200 billion increase in spending over the next two years.
Rick Perry (R)
Governor of Texas (2000–2015)
Campaigning for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 2007, Rick Perry declared that "George Bush was never a fiscal conservative." When he was governor of Texas, Perry said, "George Bush was spending money." Three years later, in his book Fed Up!, Perry complained that Bush also "turned a blind eye to undisciplined domestic spending" as president.
Contrary to the impression left by his criticism of the man who preceded him as governor of Texas, Perry's own fiscal record is a mixed bag. It compares favorably to President Bush's (a pretty low bar), not as favorably to Gov. Bush's.
In 2011, the last time Perry sought the Republican presidential nomination, Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Aman Batheja found that, adjusted for inflation and population growth, state spending rose by 2.3 percent annually under Bush, who served from January 1995 to December 2000. As of 2011, the annual growth rate under Perry, who served from December 2000 to January 2015, was 4.2 percent. Spending slowed after that, however. Taking inflation and population growth into account, total spending actually fell during Perry's last few years in office, according to figures from the Texas Legislative Budget Board.
In the Cato Institute's "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors," which awards grades based on "seven tax and spending variables," Perry received a B last year. "Looking at his whole tenure since 2000," the report says, "the Texas general fund budget has gyrated substantially over the biennium budget cycles." Cato notes that "total state spending has risen more quickly than general fund spending, with growth coming in at an annual average of 5 percent since 2000."
Perry prefers to focus on general fund spending, which is limited to revenue from state taxes and fees. That measure excludes money from the federal government, which last year accounted for more than a third of state spending in Texas. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, general fund spending fell by about 3 percent between 2002–03 (the period covered by Perry's first budget) and 2014–15. By contrast, as Batheja noted, general fund spending "rose during Bush's tenure."
You can argue about which governor's fiscal record is better, but it would be hard to do worse than Bush as president. According to calculations by Contributing Editor Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, federal spending rose by 53 percent in real terms during Bush's two terms, compared to 12.5 percent during Bill Clinton's eight years in office.
"Rampant and wasteful spending in Washington is an affront to both freedom and federalism," Perry wrote in Fed Up! His proposed solutions included a constitutional spending limit, "a complete overhaul of the appropriations process," and "a complete moratorium on earmarks until the budget is balanced." The book is notably lacking in proposals for specific spending cuts that would make it possible to reach that goal.
Bobby Jindal (R)
Governor of Louisiana (2008–present), U.S. congressman (2005–2008)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a first generation Indian-American Rhodes scholar, was supposed to be the Republican answer to President Barack Obama. But one reason he's dashing that hope, trailing badly in the RealClearPolitics poll average of Republican presidential hopefuls, is that he simply hasn't delivered the high-octane performance necessary as governor to forcefully propel himself onto the national stage. His March approval ratings in the Bayou State hovered at 27 percent.
This is surprising because Jindal is something rare in Louisiana: a non-corrupt politician. Moreover, he was elected in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and on the cusp of a massive recession to "make the economy bigger and the government smaller." And he has delivered on that promise.
Louisiana has seen solid economic growth while Jindal has cut more than 30,000 state employees, a virtually unparalleled performance nationwide. He is just about as aggressive a privatizer as one can find, turning over Medicaid to managed care companies and various state-run hospitals to nonprofits.
So what's not to like? A $1.6 billion 2016 fiscal hole, that's what.
Jindal blames this on plummeting revenues due to declining oil prices. However, massive growth of corporate welfare is part of the story.
Soon after assuming office, Jindal slashed a 2002 income tax increase and business taxes, returning over a billion dollars to taxpayers over five years and earning an A on the Cato Institute's 2010 fiscal report card for governors. (His 2013 plan to completely eliminate the income tax in exchange for raising the sales tax went down in flames.)
The problem is that he hasn't cut state spending enough to make up the revenues lost by tax cuts. Over the last seven years, the state's general funds have dipped only from $8.7 billion to $8.4 billion.
Partly this is because spending on many budget items in Louisiana is required either by the constitution or by voter-approved ballot measures, leaving only higher education and (until recently) Medicaid open to reductions. Jindal has cut these—along with using budget gimmicks such as raiding rainy-day funds meant for employee health insurance and elderly services to make up for the shortfall.
However, he has also contributed to the deficit by expanding the Bayou State's panoply of more than 400 corporate tax giveaways larger than $1 billion. An investigation by Baton Rouge's The Advocate found that his six-year-old solar power tax credit now consumes $61 million annually; film credits $251 million; and the Louisiana Enterprise Zone program $70 million.
Jindal's latest budget proposal finally tackles this corporate pork. We'll see whether it'll be enough to reverse his reputation as an irresponsible fiscal steward.
Chris Christie (R)
Governor of New Jersey (2010–present)
"Sit down and shut up!" New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told a heckler at a town hall–style meeting last year. It's exactly that sort of Tony Soprano-esque bluntness that defines the Garden State capo for voters and policy wonks alike. Indeed, Christie's "straightforward discussion" and "real specifics" for reforming entitlements have won him praise from the fiscal hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Budget. Christie would raise the retirement age to 69 and end Social Security transfers for retirees pulling in more than $200,000 a year; he would also limit per-enrollee payments for Medicaid and block grant the programs to all 50 states.
While the former federal prosecutor was exonerated in "Bridgegate," a supposedly politically motivated shutdown of traffic on the George Washington Bridge, spending on his watch constitutes a real scandal. New Jersey's budgets have climbed since Christie took office in 2010. As he settled in to his second term last year, total expenditures in the Garden State came to $50.6 billion. For fiscal 2016, they are estimated to come in at $56 billion, an 11 percent increase.
At the same time, Christie presides over the state that has the worst business tax climate according to the Tax Foundation, boasts one of the highest top marginal income tax rates (8.97 percent), and that was recently named "the nation's biggest pension deadbeat" for its awful record of making annual required contributions for all of the 21st century.
This isn't all Christie's fault, of course, but for a tough guy known to shout down hecklers you'd be forgiven for expecting different results.
Ben Carson (R)
Ben Carson is a recent Republican convert (he registered for the party only last fall), a deeply religious motivational speaker, and a conscious novice in the world of politics. The inexperience is part of his selling proposition. Asked for a March GQ profile who his favorite Treasury secretary was, he replied, "Andrea Mitchell's husband." Famous Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan must have been surprised at the demotion.
Carson is much more known for his serial comparisons of the U.S. government to Nazi Germany than for his proposals on government spending, and his exploratory website has no useful information on the issue, but a rough picture can be cobbled together from his speeches and writings. In his 2012 book America the Beautiful, Carson wrote, "I believe the logical approach would be to have each governmental agency and department trim its budget by 10 percent—with no exceptions. In each subsequent year, another 10 percent decrease would be required and would continue as long as necessary to bring the budget back into balance. This would mean there would be no sacred cows and no sparing of entitlements."
At the same time, Carson has criticized the 1990s deregulation of the financial industry, urged much more robust military spending and engagement, and advocated at various times getting "rid of for-profit insurance companies." In his political career-making moment, a February 2013 prayer breakfast speech in front of President Barack Obama, he decried tax complexity, regulation, and the size of the national debt. He is, and will likely remain, a policy work in progress.
Rick Santorum (R)
U.S. senator from Pennsylvania (1995–2007), U.S. congressman (1991–1995)
Rick Santorum is most famous for his social conservatism, but when he ran for president in 2012 he was selling his record as a fiscal conservative as well.
Santorum's weapon of choice in the budget wars has long been the balanced budget amendment, which he flogged hard in the mid-1990s. He also voted consistently for tax cuts, even voting no on a measure that would have increased capital gains taxes to fund Pentagon activities in 2006.
But Santorum's record as a fiscal conservative is hardly unblemished: The Washington Post flagged him as a champion earmarker in a 2012 factcheck; he's responsible for up to $1 billion in pork during his 16 years on the Hill. In a 2009 Fox News interview Santorum declared: "I've had a lot of earmarks. In fact, I'm proud of all the earmarks I've put in bills. I think members of Congress should be able to say where money should be spent, just so long as they're open and available for the public to see." This from the man who remained a staunch supporter of federal funding for the famous Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere, even after the project became a national punchline. Santorum eventually supported efforts to limit pork, but only after the tide of public opinion had definitively turned.
Santorum is also unrepentant about his support for Amtrak, dairy subsidies, gasoline price caps, steel tariffs, and other market-distorting measures. While he did support efforts to privatize Social Security, he voted in favor of Medicare Part D, the largest new entitlement of his time in Washington.
"I am not a libertarian," Santorum declared at a press event in summer 2011, "and I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican Party and the conservative movement." In 2005, he told NPR that he would do his best to oppose the "libertarian-ish right," who "have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can't go it alone."
John Kasich (R)
Governor of Ohio (2011-present), U.S. congressman (1983–2001)
John Kasich likes to boast about the "Ohio story" of economic recovery. Since taking the governor's office in 2011, Kasich has helped slash the deficit, cut income taxes, kill the estate tax, and bolster the state's surplus fund. Yet Kasich has also expanded Medicaid, raised sales and business taxes, and dramatically increased government spending during his tenure.
Kasich has been a big proponent of "tax shifting"—paying for an income tax cut, for instance, by raising taxes on cigarettes, oil and gas obtained through fracking, and business revenue—rather than cutting government spending. His proposed budget for the 2016–2017 fiscal year was 40.14 percent higher than the budget for 2011, according to Opportunity Ohio. State spending has outpaced both inflation and population growth under Kasich.
A huge chunk of Ohio spending now goes to Medicaid, which Kasich expanded using federal funds made available through the Affordable Care Act. Kasich is calling for $55.6 billion in Medicaid spending in Ohio for 2015–2017.*
Kasich claims he is "on a crusade" to get 34 states to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was known as a strong fiscal conservative who engineered the balanced budget deal of 1997 (the first balanced federal budget since 1969) and helped usher in welfare reforms.
Carly Fiorina (R)
CEO of Hewlett-Packard (1999–2005)
"We need to get spending under control," said Carly Fiorina during a 2010 debate with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D–Calif.). But specifics on how Fiorina would cut federal spending are few.
As one of 2016's few presidential contenders without a political record, public statements are about all we have to go on to assess Fiorina's budgetary principles. Though she's spent the past few years working as a Republican campaign consultant, Fiorina's career has largely been in the corporate world, most notably as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Her tenure there, from 1999 through 2005, is generally seen as a dark spot for the company, whose stock plummeted during this time. Fiorina insists this was more a product of the tech bubble bursting than her leadership capabilities.
After leaving Hewlett-Packard Fiorina made an unsuccessful foray into politics, challenging Boxer for her senate seat in 2010. Throughout the campaign, Fiorina did focus on cutting federal spending. "Tax, spend and borrow is not a governing philosophy, it's a cycle of dependency and it's one that must be broken," her campaign website stated.
"If we're serious about getting rid of our deficit and getting control of our debt, Washington must do the same two things most families and business[es] do when things get tight: reduce spending and pay down debt," it continued. "That requires taking on the difficult task of prioritizing programs and spending our taxpayer dollars where they have the greatest impact."
Fiorina deflected questions about cutting Medicare and Social Security at the time and rejected cutting defense. She did criticize Boxer for supporting the stimulus and voting against a balanced budget amendment, and said she would "institute a spending cap in Washington, D.C." and "call on the federal government to freeze pay [and] only hire one person for every two that leave government service."
This April, Fiorina advocated zero-based budgeting and simplifying the tax code, arguing on her Facebook page, "What we do know is that every year, every government agency spends every dime they are entitled to, whether they need to or not…because they want to make sure the appropriations process is focused on the rate of increase for the following year—not what they actually need or whether they actually need to spend it."
Hillary Clinton (D)
U.S. secretary of state (2009–2013), U.S. senator from New York (2001–2009), first lady (1993–2001)
In 2006, then–Sen. Hillary Clinton voted against raising the debt ceiling. Alas, like her then-Senate colleague Barack Obama, who also voted no, there is no reason to suspect that Clinton's opposition was based on anything but partisan opportunism.
Clinton had a habit of voting against George W. Bush's budgets during her first six years as senator, when the GOP had majorities in both houses of Congress. But after Democrats took back control, she happily supported a $2.9 trillion budget for the 2008 fiscal year that included more spending than the sitting president had even asked for. Later, as secretary of state, she warned Republicans against reducing foreign aid expenditures, saying: "Cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our national security…and will damage our leadership around the world."
Clinton also was an early proponent of stimulus spending during the 2008 financial crisis. As part of her primary campaign she proposed a $110 billion package, and she dinged Obama's plan for being "less progressive" than hers. Not only did she vote for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, better known as the Wall Street bailout, but when a cadre of conservative legislators tried to block the release of some of the funds, one of Clinton's final acts as senator was voting to stop them.
Clinton did once show signs of wanting to do something about Social Security. Although she was staunchly opposed to Bush's idea of moving to privatized accounts, she told a prominent member of the New Hampshire press in 2007 that the system has long-term challenges and implied they could require structural changes. "I believe that we have to move back to fiscal responsibility," she said. "We can do it in a way that doesn't impose additional and difficult burdens on the middle class or our seniors."
Ah, but that was then: At an April campaign event, Clinton stated flatly: "We do not mess with it."
Jim Webb (D)
U.S. senator from Virginia (2007–2013), secretary of the Navy (1987–1988)
Jim Webb may buck his party's orthodoxy on gun control, incarceration, and the national security state, but when it comes to spending the Virginia Democrat was a loyal party man during his six years in the Senate. Back when annual budgets went up for a vote (remember those days?), he regularly joined other Democrats in supporting the bills. When he voted to raise the debt ceiling in 2011, he accused Republicans of "indiscriminate obstructionism." He did break with party leaders in 2010 by backing John Thune's bill to reduce domestic spending by 5 percent, but such deviations were rare.
Since announcing last year that he might enter the presidential race, Webb has not introduced a budget proposal of his own. Of the major sources of federal spending, the one most likely to attract his ire is the Pentagon. Webb, who once resigned as Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy because he didn't want to make cuts to his department, was warning by the end of his Senate term that "we are spending ourselves into a second-tier status as a nation," telling Politico that "we need to do a lot better job in terms of how we're positioning our military around the world and what they're doing….We're spending hundreds of billions in this effort, and I think we can be a lot smarter."
Martin O'Malley (D)
Governor of Maryland (2007–2015), mayor of Baltimore (1999–2007)
In Martin O'Malley's first budget as the governor of Maryland, the state spent $32.7 billion (in 2015 dollars). The final budget he signed totaled $38.9 billion. That growth outpaced the increase in the state's population, which rose from about 5.65 million to 5.97 million during the Democrat's term in office. Maryland law requires a balanced budget, but at the end of 2014, as O'Malley prepared to leave office, the state faced a shortfall of almost $1.2 billion, forcing both the governor and his successor to make emergency cuts.
O'Malley has not proposed a federal budget, but he has made his feelings clear on entitlement spending, declaring that "we must expand—and not reduce—Social Security benefits." (He might be more willing to take a knife to Medicaid: It was one of the programs he cut to fix that state budget shortfall.) If he has any ideas about the proper level of military spending, he has not made them a substantial part of his nascent campaign.
Bernie Sanders (I)
U.S. senator from Vermont (2007–present), U.S. congressman (1991–2007), mayor of Burlington (1981–1989)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Independent Vermont senator who caucuses with Democrats, has never been shy about his desire to use government taxation and spending to redistribute wealth and punish the rich. In the run-up to his announcement about his 2016 presidential candidacy, Sanders called for a "mass mobilization of millions of people who stand up" to "billionaires"—including the Koch brothers, who fund various limited government initiatives and are also donors to the Reason Foundation, which publishes this magazine—and tell them they can't "have it all." Sanders has described the difference in income levels among Americans as "obscene" and supports the president's 2016 budget proposal as "a good start" to wealth redistribution.
Sanders has resisted efforts to cut spending or even slow its growth, insisting Washington was "not going to balance the budget on the backs of the vulnerable," like those who use Social Security and Medicare. Rather than supporting any means-testing to ensure actually "vulnerable" people are the ones using the entitlements, Sanders has proposed to expand Social Security benefits and supported raising the cap on taxable income to $118,500. He also supports extending Medicare to cover all Americans, calling it a "single payer" health care system that would work better than Obamacare, which Sanders also supported. The only "deficits" Sanders says he's concerned about are "deficits in jobs, income equality, infrastructure, trade, retirement security, and education," all of which, according to Sanders, require massive new spending programs.
*CORRECTION: The original version of the article stated that the $55.6 billion figure was for a single year. It is for two years, 2016 and 2017 combined.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Can They Stop Themselves?".