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While Rome Burns . . .


I confess to watching with grim amusement this kerfuffle over whether Republicans have already reneged on the vaunted promise — in the vaunted Pledge — to cut $100 billion in spending. Four thoughts:

1. Rep. Ryan is correct. The pertinent part of the Pledge reads: “With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone[.]” The promise was to roll back spending to 2008, and it was estimated at the time the promise was written — based on President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget — that this would result in a saving of at least $100 billion (as Dan points out, more like $107 billion). But the core of the promise is about slashing to 2008, not the exact amount of the resulting savings since that could not be known precisely at the time. The Pledge could have been clearer on that point, but that seems picky to me.

2. The $100 billion estimate (now more like $60 billion according to Rep. Ryan) was very unimpressive. If we assume for argument’s sake a continuing resolution that would lock 2010 levels in for the whole fiscal year, federal spending that year was about $3.55 trillion. That is, Republicans were talking about shaving less than 1/35 of federal spending (less than 3 percent).

3. As Rep. Ryan has acknowledged, if we just take the deal Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed last month to extend the Bush tax rates to 2012, it includes a whopping $313 billion in new spending — i.e., spending unrelated to extending the lower tax rates.

4. The stated goal here, 2008, was an example of out-of-control federal spending — nearly $3 trillion in total expenditures, adding nearly $460 billion to the debt (without factoring in most unfunded liabilities).