McCain to Balance Budget – Here’s How
John McCain is promising to balance the budget in his first term:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to promise on Monday that he will balance the federal budget by the end of his first term by curbing wasteful spending and overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security, his advisers told Politico.
“In the long-term, the only way to keep the budget balanced is successful reform of the large spending pressures in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” the McCain campaign says in a policy paper to be released Monday. “The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.”
Considering that the current deficit is in the neighborhood of $410 billion, it’s going to be a neat trick, indeed, to eliminate it through the elimination of “wasteful” spending. Then again, the Bush White House lists among the highlights of the 2009 budget the fact that it “Balances the budget by 2012.” Indeed, OMB projects a $48 billion surplus.
It’s noteworthy that the 2009 request is $987.6 billion, an increase of $46.2 billion (4.9 percent) from the previous year. And that’s not counting $75.8 billion in “Supplemental and Emergency Funding” (down from $104.4 billion). Balancing the budget, then, would require finding waste and reforms that would shave the budget by a quarter.
Social Security, incidentally, is only $8.4 billion.[*] The entire Health and Human Services budget? $70.4 billion. Housing and Urban Development? Another $38.5 billion. Environmental Protection is $7.1 billion. Interior, $10.6 billion. (Those are FY 2009 requests; the appropriations will differ somewhat.) So, let’s say we reform those to run with such efficiency that they are totally self-sustaining. That’s $135 billion in savings. Only another $275 billion and we’re home free! Education is another $59.2 billion. Labor, $10.5. National Science Foundation, $6.9 billion. And “Other Agencies” — how important could they be, really, if they don’t get mentioned by name? — are $7.2 billion. That’s another $83.8 billion, getting our deficit down to $191.2 billion. If we can achieve victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by, say, the one year anniversary of McCain’s inauguration, we can save that, easy.
Now, the economy is kind of soft right now. If McCain can come in and give it the kick in the pants it needs, we’ll start bringing in more revenue. So, maybe, we can save a few of those programs above.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias suggests that “magic ponies” might somehow be involved. I hadn’t factored that into the above calculations.
*UPDATE: As Dave Schuler notes in the comments, this represents only the general fund fraction of the Social Security Administration’s budget. The total expenditures of SSA are a staggering $695.9 billion. But, since that’s “off budget,” it doesn’t count toward the deficit.
UPDATE: Hilzoy says the budget calculations are even more complicated than my figures above suggest.