Even less than meets the eye

EVEN LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE…. We talked earlier about the Republican budget-cut proposal, which reduces funding for, among other things, the Safe Routes to Schools program. It’s part of what CNN is describing as a GOP plan to “cut spending by $375 billion over the next five years.”

Putting aside the merit of specific spending measures, there’s a more obvious problem with the Republican plan — it doesn’t even come close to cutting $375 billion over the next five years.

Tim Fernholz took a closer look at the proposal and found that the congressional minority actually aims for $23 billion in cuts over five years. (The $375 billion figure is only off by a factor of 15). Here’s Tim’s breakdown of the plan:

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.

So, after over a month of budget scrutiny, House Republican leaders have come up with a plan that would cut federal spending by about $5 billion a year — far less than the White House plan to reduce spending.

This seems to fit in with the larger pattern of GOP House members being fundamentally unserious about budget issues. Remember their idea about a five-year spending freeze? Or their alternative budget with inexplicable charts and no numbers?

They really should just give up.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.