April 16, 2014

Reconciling Rhetoric and Reality Won't Be Easy

  • The federal budget process is a mixture of rules, timelines and norms that work together to influence policy decisions. It shapes how the...

With lawmakers returning to Washington this week, Republicans face an extremely difficult task: Living up to the campaign rhetoric that helped them gain dozens of congressional seats in the Nov. 2 elections.

Republicans campaigned on a pledge to move towards a balanced budget entirely through spending cuts. That would be hard enough. But the GOP also promised trillions of dollars in tax cuts. Their proposed repeal of certain parts of this year’s health care reform could boost deficits still higher. And many Republicans also want to increase defense spending.

“The problem with the Republicans’ pledge is that the numbers don’t add up,” says Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition. In a recent blog post, he points out that beyond 2012, the combined cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will grow by more than the $100 billion per year that Republicans say they will cut from other programs.

“Thus, even if the Republicans are successful in making these difficult cuts, the total cost of government, and the total national debt, would continue to grow,” Bixby warns. This means interest payments on the debt would also rise rapidly, creating still more red ink.

In their budget plans, the President and Senate Democrats will also have trouble reconciling their campaign promises with unpleasant fiscal realities. “They too have promised to extend most of the tax cuts,” Bixby notes, “and their campaign rhetoric indicated even less desire to slow the growth of entitlement spending.”

Both parties, he argues, must adopt more realistic approaches to the country's demographic and fiscal challenges.