Nothing ‘moderate’ about this plan

We’ve gotten a fairly good look at the kind of policy agenda Mitt Romney will pursue if elected. It’s not terribly ambitious — certainly nothing on par with “saving the soul of America” — and it’s even less creative.

The basic pitch is straightforward: more tax cuts for the wealthy, free rein for Wall Street, and with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, taking health coverage away from millions.

But there’s more to it once we factor in the brutal cuts to public spending Romney is promising voters he’d implement. Jonathan Cohn took a closer look at one of my favorite subjects: spending caps. Cohn makes the case that they make Romney’s plan even more offensive that Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

Romney has vowed that, by 2016, he would cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product while maintaining defense spending at 4 percent of GDP. That means he would limit all non-defense spending to 16 percent of GDP.

The latest Congressional Budget Office projection suggests that GDP in 2016 will be $19.1 trillion. Sixteen percent of that is about $3.1 trillion. But, based on CBO figures, non-defense spending will be about $3.6 trillion in 2016. So to meet his goals, Romney would have to cut non-defense federal spending in 2016 by roughly $500 billion. […]

Taking half a trillion dollars out of $3.6 trillion works out to a 14 percent reduction. (To be precise, it would be 14.1 percent.) Applied equally to all non-defense spending, that would mean approximately $130 billion less for Social Security and about $90 billion less for Medicare, just in 2016 alone.

If Romney exempts Medicare and Social Security from his budget hatchet — and he might — that would mean at least 25% cuts for literally everything else outside the Pentagon budget. What would that include? You name it — law enforcement, infrastructure, medical research, environmental protections, food stamps, student loans, etc.

And as Jonathan noted, these brutal cuts would be “in addition to the automatic cuts already set to take effect in January, 2013, now that the deficit super-committee has failed to reach a consensus.”

There’s a word to describe budget plans like this: “radical.”

This isn’t a Bush-like agenda; it’s much more right-wing. And for those “banking on the re-flip,” it’s worth remembering, as Jonathan Bernstein explained in the Monthly‘s new print edition, presidential candidates tend to pursue the agendas they present to voters during the campaign. If Romney wins, he’ll think he has a mandate to push these crushing cuts to public investments and the safety net.

As recently as a few days ago, the former governor was assuring voters, “I’m concerned about the poor in this country. We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can’t help themselves.” What he neglected to mention was his plan to tear that safety net to shreds.

Much of the political establishment still considers Romney one of the “moderates” of the Republican presidential field. By general temperament, that might make some degree of sense. But temperament is irrelevant when compared to platforms — and one look at Romney’s budget plan makes clear there’s nothing moderate about this guy’s agenda.