So Ron Paul has released his plan to cut one trillion from the budget and balance the budget in three years. Well, I don’t like it. Here is a nonexhaustive list of reasons why,
1. Ron Paul cuts 2013 Medicaid spending to a level 30% lower than the Ryan budget (and that is on top of the 13 billion dollar Medicaid cut in the Ryan budget.) This more than 80 billion dollar cut (on top of Ryan’s 13 billion dollar cut) would provoke state-level funding crises and the suddenness of the cuts would reduce access to health care for the poor. There are smarter, less damaging ways to reform Medicaid that allow states to transition to more sustainable fiscal policies and reform their health care programs for the poor. The Ryan budget does just that.
2. Let us, for the moment, put aside Paul’s promises to abandon the Afghanistan operation and all other American operations designed to prevent the emergence of al-Qaeda client states. That would mean zeroing out the 93 billion dollars for 2013 continuing military operations in the Ryan budget. Let us just focus on Ron Paul’s funding of basic military operations. Paul’s budget cuts spending for basic (not relating to current military operations) military spending by 50 billion dollars and cuts a further 20 billion for military modernization. All in the first year. Such cuts would, in practice, force the US to abrogate its current collective security arrangements around the world. A case can be made for that, but American alliances and military power help maintain international trade flows and multiple regional state systems. Withdrawing from those alliances could, in the medium term, help set up conflicts with unpredictable and possibly horrible results. There is an argument for cutting back America’s collective security arrangements, but if you are going to cut them back so suddenly, you probably shouldn’t be cutting the military very much or at all. You might be needing a lot more of it a lot sooner than you might think.
3. Paul doesn’t cut Social Security, but wants to let younger workers op- out of the current Social Security system. The problem is that the taxes of younger workers are what is funding the current system. If Paul wants to let them opt out then either benefits for seniors will have to be cut, taxes will have to be raised, or the government will have to borrow more money.
4. Paul wants to eliminate the Department of Energy. Fine, but as I understand it, about 10 billion dollars of the Department of Energy budget goes to maintenance, production and safety regulation of military nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Presumably even Paul does not want to eliminate this function in the first year. The job could be transferred to the Defense Department, but we’ve already seen how much Paul has cut that department. So he is going to have to cut the Defense Department’s operations even more than he suggested, or increase the Defense budget by around 10 billion dollars to accommodate the department’s new responsibilities or hope that nuclear weapons and military nuclear reactors will produce and maintain themselves.
5. Ed Morrissey is right. It isn’t crazy that the FAA could be privatized over time. The idea that it could or should be privatized in one year and that the government should stake the country’s safety on a successful, immediate privatization is insane.
But I’m not coming to bury Paul, but to praise him. His budget is a mostly good faith effort to come to terms with what it would take to balance the budget in the near-term without tax increases or cuts to old age entitlements. Compare Ron Paul to Herman Cain. Cain is a much more serious spending cutter if you take Cain seriously. It takes Paul three years to balance the budget. Cain promised to send a balanced budget in his first year. Unlike Paul, Cain wants to maintain military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This isn’t to say that Cain couldn’t find any defense savings, but nothing like the more than 163 billion in defense cuts in the 2013 Ron Paul budget. Ron Paul and Herman Cain agree not to cut Social Security and Medicare spending in the short-term. Cain would have to find huge and immediate cuts on top of Paul’s (problematic) proposals to immediately eliminate five cabinet departments, and bring domestic discretionary spending down to 2006 levels.
It doesn’t add up. It isn’t supposed to. It is all hot air. Ron Paul, for all the problems of his budget, is leveling with us in important ways. If you want to balance the budget in the near-term without tax increases or entitlement cuts you are going to have to gut defense and make sharp, discontinuous cuts to social spending that will injure the most vulnerable. You can take it or leave it, and since most people will leave it (I sure will), Ron Paulism, for all of its relative honesty, isn’t likely to dominate the political debate. Cain represents something more dangerous because it is bigger than Cain. It isn’t conservatism and it isn’t libertarianism. It is a kind of blowhardism. This particular blowhardism is a combination of positions on entitlement spending, taxation, military engagement, and purely rhetorical spending cutting radicalism that can’t withstand contact with the realities of either the federal budget or public opinion. As the polls show, the cheap thrills and vague promises of blowhardism are a lot more popular than anything Ron Paul is offering. The problem is that blowhardism doesn’t get us anywhere. It isn’t a real strategy to achieve the reforms we need. It is a waste of time, and time is running out.