Mitt Doubles Down On Ryan Budget Cuts

It didn’t really get a lot of attention at the time, but I’ve always felt that the single most significant pander to the Right executed by Mitt Romney this cycle was his signature on the so-called “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge last June. This toxic little statement pledged the signatories to agree on a plan to “cut” federal spending by a huge, fixed amount; “cap” federal spending at a low, fixed percentage of GDP; and then balance the federal budget in perpetuity without any tax increases. It’s a deeply irresponsible position, but then again, it was a sine qua non for any presidential candidate who didn’t want to be in the receiving end of thunderbolts from Jim DeMint.

So it’s interesting that Mitt chose a very specific promise to follow the dictates of “cut, cap and balance” as president–whether or not it was ever enacted as a constitutional amendment–as a centerpiece of his CPAC speech today. And he’s even amplified it by a commitment to hold defense spending to a relatively high level, while cutting high-end taxes well beyond the levels achieved by the Bush tax cuts.

This is all well and good for his CPAC audience (which Mitt charmed with 26 separate invocations of the word “conservative”), but what might it mean for the rest of us?

Ezra Klein’s run some numbers based on the speech and on previous Romney speeches and issue-position documents, and it’s pretty scary:

Romney has, essentially, made four significant fiscal promises: He has pledged to cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. He has pledged to cut taxes to about 17 percent of GDP. He has pledged to a floor on defense spending at 4 percent of GDP. And he has pledged to balance the budget.

So let’s add it all up: Romney has to cut federal spending down to 17 percent of GDP. Federal spending is currently at 24 percent of GDP, and the Congressional Budget Office predicts that it will be around 22 percent for the next decade. For comparison’s sake, Paul Ryan’s budget would keep spending above 20 percent of GDP for at least the next 20 years.

That’s a lot of numbers, so here’s the bottom line: Romney is proposing to cut more than twice as much from the budget as Ryan. And Ryan’s budget, as you’ll remember, was already quite austere.

I guess given Mitt’s need to make conservatives feel it’s safe to “settle” for him, it makes sense seen to show he’s willing to “double down” on Ryan’s efforts to roll back the New Deal and the Great Society legacy permanently. But boy, he’s really taking that literally.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.