Balancing the Budget

Quite some number of bloggers have reacted to John McCain’s pledge to balance the budget:

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.

The vow to take on Social Security puts McCain in a political danger zone that thwarted President Bush after he named it the top domestic priority of his second term.

McCain is making the pledge at the beginning of a week when both presidential candidates plan to devote their events to the economy, the top issue in poll after poll as voters struggle to keep their jobs and fill their gas tanks.

“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.

Reactions have varied from skepticism to cynicism, highly weighted towards the latter. James Joyner leans a little in the skeptical direction:

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.

Matthew Yglesias decidedly cynical:

How to reconcile John McCain’s reputation as a fiscal tightwad with his desire for open-ended war in Iraq? It’s simple, magical ponies victory will solve the problem, as a policy paper leaked to Mike Allen at Politico says: “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.”

Put me down on the cynical side. Congress long ago discovered how to balance the budget: take items that would cause expenditures to exceed revenues and move them off-budget. Presto! the budget is balanced. Balancing the budget is no trick; balancing the budget in a way that’s intellectually honest, sound from an accounting standpoint, and politically acceptable is impossible.

The only hope that we have for accomplishing that is the same approach used by the Clinton Administration: keep the increase in benefits under control and grow your way into balance. I don’t believe that the Clinton Administration engineered their way into this: I believe they were very, very fortunate. What engineering there was consisted of not getting in the way of a boom when it was under way.

As both Sens. McCain and Obama turn their serious attention to the economy it will interesting to see what they propose. I don’t have my hopes up.

3 comments… add one
  • Larry Link

    I’m losing hope..I’m trying to brace for a major change in the way
    I live..the falling dollar, the energy crises, the failing financial markets, the
    cost of the failed war on terror…it will have to be a global effort to correct
    this mess.

    No new or changed tax policies from McCain you think a bailout from corporate America would help, no, lets take away SS…just make the
    poor a bit poorer…

    Are we too late to do anything to stop the slide, could we if we wanted to right now do something to alter this? We haven’t seen the bottom of the pit yet have we?

  • Andy Link

    I’m with you Dave. In addition to what you said, consider the role of the President in the budget. The President has no inherent power to balance the budget – the best he can do is submit a “balanced” budget proposal and threaten to veto any budget that doesn’t meet it. In such a game of “budget chicken” the President will lose.

  • Clinton found his way into a balanced budget when the Dems lost the House and the dot-com bubble poosted tax revenues. Sadly both the “freshman effect” and the dot-com bubble had very finite lives.

    But yeah, that’s the way to get to a balanced budget. Hold spending growth under revenue growth long enough and sooner or later it balances.

Leave a Comment