During his primary campaign, Mitt Romney promised to balance the federal budget by 2020 and sharply shrink spending by 2016, tells The Wall Street Journal.
Romney vowed to do so without cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits, two of the main drivers of federal spending, either for current beneficiaries or those poised to become one.
According to The Huff Post, differences over the government’s budget and spiraling deficits are among the starkest that separate Republican Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama.
President Obama’s budget avoids risk, with minimal cuts to rapidly growing health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid while socking wealthier people with tax increases. It’s all part of an effort to close trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
Mitt Romney, in his turn, proposes broad cuts in government spending, possibly overpromising on reductions that even a Congress stuffed with conservatives might find hard to deliver.
However, the Romney campaign isn’t backing away from the budget targets. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has acknowledged there could be backlash from some of the cuts he is pursuing, but he said it’s what’s necessary to bring spending under control.
“I know that some people think it’s going to be political suicide to talk about shrinking government programs and cutting back, but you know we have to learn to live within our means,” Romney told a crowd of voters in Warwick, R.I., last week.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, current government spending is $3.6 trillion, or about 23.5 percent of the gross domestic product this year, slipping to 21.8 percent by 2016.
The Romney campaign says it needs to come up with $500 billion in cuts in 2016, the target year. Romney promises to shrink the government by about one-seventh when compared against the size of the economy.
Barack Obama’s most-recent budget proposal foresees government spending at 22.5% of gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, in 2016—above Romney’s 20% goal.
Federal spending this year is 24.3% of GDP. President Obama proposes reducing the deficit but has not called for a balanced budget, as Romney does.
However, due to Romney promises to protect current Social Security and Medicare recipients from cuts, he cannot get much savings from those programs by 2016. They are projected to make up about 44 percent of the budget that year.
Interest costs, which cannot be touched, would make up an additional 9 percent of the budget, while Romney promises to add almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget that year, based on his pledge that military spending reach 4 percent of GDP.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has looked at an overhaul of Medicaid similar to one pushed for the past two years by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).
The program provides health care for about 50 million mostly poor and disabled people, including nursing home care for 7 of 10 patients nationwide. Obama’s health care law would sharply boost Medicaid enrollment to cover more people above the poverty line, a move that Romney promises to repeal.
If Social Security is mostly off the table and current Medicare beneficiaries are protected, domestic Cabinet agency budgets would take a major hit in ways that could fundamentally alter government.
The case in point are health research; NASA; transportation; housing and heating subsidies for the poor; food aid for pregnant women; homeland security; education; food inspection; the FBI; grants to local governments; national parks; and veterans’ health care.
Mitt Romney promises to immediately cut them by 5 percent. But they would have to be cut more than 20 percent to meet his overall budget goals, assuming veterans’ health care is exempted. It’s almost unthinkable that lawmakers would go along with cuts of such magnitude for air traffic control and food inspection or to agencies like NASA, the FBI, Border Patrol and the Centers for Disease Control.
The largely off-limits budget items—Social Security, Medicare, and military spending—are projected to make up roughly 50% of the budget in 2016, according to the White House’s most recent projections, which would put more pressure on Mr. Romney to find cuts in a relatively small portion of the budget.
“He’s really vulnerable on this, not so much because the numbers don’t add up,” said Allen Schick, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, “but because to add them up you have to do things that are politically unacceptable.”