Abundantly Clear What “Makes Sense” to Republicans

Timothy Geithner knows better than to pretend Republicans don’t have a budget plan.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at a G20 conference in Washington DC, April 15, 2011
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at a G20 conference in Washington DC, April 15, 2011 (IMF/Stephen Jaffe)

Where has Timothy Geithner been in the last two years? Not much in Washington DC, one imagines, or he would have known better than to pretend that Republicans haven’t come up with a plan to address the United States’ fiscal crisis.

The Treasury Secretary suggested on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that if Republicans didn’t like the financial proposals that the administration has made, “they have to tell us what makes sense to them. And then we can take a look at it. But what we can’t do is try to figure out what makes sense to them.”

Obviously not but the secretary doesn’t have to. Republicans have made quite clear what “makes sense to them” in recent years. Perhaps the clearest budget proposal was Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s who wrote the party’s alternative budget for the fiscal year 2012 that all Republican members of the House of Representatives voted for in April of last year. It achieved more than $6 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years and even then would barely balance the books by 2012. Democrats, nevertheless, chastised it as a “reckless” plan because it cut spending too deeply and privatized Medicare, the entitlement program that finances health care for seniors.

In the same month Republicans enacted the Ryan budget, their study committee in the House of Representatives came up with more than $9 trillion in cuts over the same ten year period. Under this plan, the federal government would grow by an average of just 1.7 percent per year compared to 2.8 percent under Ryan’s and 4.7 percent in President Barack Obama’s budget which cut annual spending by $100 billion.

The Republican Study Committee’s plans were matched by Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn who singlehandedly identified $9 trillion in potential savings in July of last year. Kentucky’s senator Rand Paul unveiled an even more ambitious plan in March of this year which cut $11 trillion in spending relative to the president’s budget.

The president’s only concrete proposal to reduce the deficit in the short term is to raise taxes on incomes over $250,000 which, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, would yield $829 billion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that deficits over the same period will add $6.7 trillion to the debt. A simple tax increase on the rich would therefore accomplish fairly little.

Unsurprisingly, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected the president’s 2012 budget. Not a single Democrat or Republican voted in favor of it.

Even if Democrats in the Senate didn’t bother voting on Ryan’s budget also, he put out another one this year which achieved a similar amount in deficit reduction, albeit without privatizing Medicare. The president called it “extreme.”

Republicans, then, have made perfectly clear what they want in a number of plans that detail where they believe spending can and should be cut. Democrats, on the other hand, including the president, have made clear what they oppose but yet to present a plan for long-term fiscal consolidation. Secretary Geithner didn’t complain about that though.