For much of the past few generations, the debate over balancing the federal budget has been a central feature of every presidential campaign. But over time, the goalposts have moved. As the amount of red ink has grown steadily larger, the suggested time frames to restore balance have gotten increasingly longer, while the suggested cuts in government spending have gotten increasingly shallower. In recent years, talk of balancing the budget gave way to vague promises such as "cutting the deficit in half in five years." In the current campaign, however, it appears as if the goalposts have been moved so far that they are no longer in the field of play. I would argue that they are completely out of the stadiumRead the rest here.
It says a great deal about where we are that the symbolic budget plan proposed last year by Congressman Paul Ryan, the newly minted vice presidential nominee, has created such outrage among democrats and caution among republicans. The Obama campaign warns that the Ryan budget is a recipe for national disaster that will pad the coffers of the wealthy while damning the majority of Americans to perpetual poverty. The plan is apparently so radical that even the Romney campaign, while embracing the messenger, is distancing itself from the message (it appears that Romney wants to bathe himself in the aura of fresh thinking without actually offering any fresh thoughts). In interview after interview, both Romney and Ryan refuse to discuss the details of Ryan's budget while slamming Obama for his callous "cuts" in Medicare spending.
(It is extremely disheartening that the top point of contention in the campaign this week is each candidate's assertion that their presidency could be the most trusted not to cut Medicare. Mindful of vulnerabilities among swing state retirees, Republicans have also taken Social Security cuts off the table as well. What hope do we have of reigning in government spending when even supposedly conservative Republicans refuse to consider cuts in the largest and fastest growing federal programs?)
So what was the Ryan Budget's radical departure from the status quo that has caused such uproar? If enacted today, the Ryan budget would so drastically upend the fiscal picture that the U.S. federal budget would come into balance in just... wait for it.... 27 years! This is because the Ryan budget doesn't actually cut anything. At no point in Ryan's decades long budget timeline does he ever suggest that the government spend less than it had the year before. He doesn't touch a penny in current Social Security or Medicare outlays, nor in the bloated defense budget. His apocalypse inducing departure comes from trying to limit the rate of increase in federal spending to "just" 3.1% annually. This is below the 4.3% rate of increase that is currently baked into the budget, and farther below what we would likely see if Obama's priorities were adopted.