That leaves about $1.2 trillion in discretionary and defense spending reductions over the next ten years. Let’s put that in perspective. This year the federal government will spend $3.8 trillion. Our deficit is roughly $1.6 trillion. Our national debt exceeds $14.3 trillion, not counting unfunded entitlement liabilities. We are talking about raising the debt ceiling to $16.9 trillion. This month alone the federal government will borrow $134 billion. Reid’s cuts would average roughly $120 billion per year.
This is austerity?
Of course, the House Republican plan as announced by Speaker John Boehner is only marginally more austere.
Boehner proposes a two‐stage increase in the debt ceiling, with each stage accompanied by spending cuts. The first $1 trillion debt increase would be accompanied by $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, pretty much the same as Senator Reid’s plan. The big difference is that instead of Sen. Reid’s phony Iraq and Afghanistan savings, the speaker’s plan would appoint a commission — now there’s an exciting new idea — to propose $1.8 trillion in savings from entitlement programs. To be fair, Senator Reid would also appoint a commission — because that’s what Washington does — to recommend additional deficit reductions, presumably including entitlement changes. The difference is that the Boehner commission has teeth. If Congress rejects its recommendations, the president doesn’t get a second $1.6 trillion hike in the debt ceiling.
But $1.8 trillion in entitlement savings over ten years is still too small to encompass real structural reforms of the type envisioned by Rep. Paul Ryan and others. It is much more likely to simply be more tweaking around the edges, perhaps raising the eligibility age or changing the way the cost‐of‐living formula is calculated. True, changes such as these will have a real impact out beyond the ten‐year budget window, but they fall far short of what is necessary to deal with the shortfalls to come.
Making matters worse, both Reid and Boehner are using the time‐honored Washington dodge of “baseline budgeting,” meaning that the proposed cuts are not actual reductions in spending from year to year, but cuts from projected future increases. Thus, under both the Reid and Boehner plans, actual federal spending will continue to rise.
With the clock running out, we are now down to fifth‐ or sixth‐best options. But let’s not pretend that this is austerity.