House Republicans are planning to hold a vote tomorrow on the radical “cut, cap, and balance” plan, which stipulates that the federal debt ceiling only be raised if a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is sent to the states for ratification. As we’ve noted time and again, such an amendment is a phony solution to the nation’s budget challenges, and would force the government into actively making economic downturns worse.
But the current version of the amendment that the GOP is pushing is even worse than all that. In addition to preventing the government from taking steps to ameliorate an economic downturn, the plan would also cap federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. To get a sense for how radical this is, the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — which eviscerated Medicare and Medicaid — still has spending above that level in 2040.
As the Center for American Progress’ Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden noted today, actually getting spending down to that level would require 25 percent cuts in every government program, including the Pentagon and Social Security (or, of course, deeper cuts for every program that gets left untouched):
In 2016, for example, we estimate that total federal spending is likely to be around $4.4 trillion, or 22.9 percent of GDP. [...] Of that $4.4 trillion in 2016, about $520 billion will be interest payments on the debt — an area Congress can’t directly cut. That leaves about $3.9 trillion in noninterest spending, from which Congress would have to slash about $1 trillion in order to bring total spending down to 18 percent of GDP. This would require a 25 percent cut to everything in the federal budget — from Social Security to veterans’ benefits to the Pentagon to education. Congress could try to protect some programs from such severe reductions but then, of course, other areas would have to be slashed even more.
Cutting spending so deeply would reduce the federal budget to the level at which it was in 1966, when the country’s needs and demographics were very different. No President in the last 50 years, including conservative icon Ronald Reagan, has even proposed a budget with spending so low. But the GOP is willing to have the country default on its obligations unless Congress adopts this radical path.