What fiscal conservatives?

On Thursday, the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released a report titled “Primary Numbers: The GOP Candidates and the National Debt.” The report breaks down proposals from each of the four remaining Republican candidates and forecasts their financial impact under pessimistic, optimistic and middle-ground scenarios. So far the numbers don’t match up with the campaign debt-reducing rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, none of the Republican candidates have figured out a way to fix our debt, but disappointingly, none of them have even found a way to bring it down.

Over the next 10 years, Mitt Romney would raise the debt $250 billion more than it would without his help. Rick Santorum would add $4.5 trillion and Newt Gingrich would pile on a whopping $7 trillion.

Ron Paul’s proposals would reduce the growth of our debt by about $2 trillion over the course of the next 10 years. It’s a small start that would require massive – arguably disproportional – sacrifices. But Paul’s plan seems to address the debt as though it’s actually a problem. Chalk that up as one more sign he’s just not cut out for Republican leadership.

The report is a small splash of realism in the face of largely unchecked campaign optimism. As we know but sometimes forget, campaigning and governing have very little in common, so this is probably the worst time to expect responsible ideas from Republicans.

These budgets fail because they’re so attractive. You say what the voters want to hear when you’re campaigning.

So each candidate’s most expensive proposals have been tax cuts and every one of the proposed cuts is dramatic.

Gingrich wants to make a new, flat individual tax rate of 15 percent, end the already low 15 percent capital gains tax and reduce corporate taxes. Like every other candidate, he wants to end the estate tax levied on inheritances more than $5.12 million.

Romney also wants to reduce corporate tax rates and get rid of capital gains taxes for those families that make less than $200,000 a year.

Santorum’s plan would end corporate taxes completely for manufacturers, while halving it for other corporations. He would reduce our income tax system from six brackets to two and reduce the upper bracket by one-fifth.

Paul is, as usual, the most creative candidate and has expressed his opposition to federal income tax. Creativity aside, his tax proposals would still grow our debt an additional $5.2 trillion, a loss he’d offset by eliminating the departments of Health, Commerce, Education, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development.

On a gut level, it should be immediately obvious that these plans don’t quite cut it.

If we want to reduce our debt – and maybe even if we don’t – Americans are going to have to work harder and sacrifice a lot more. But it is hard to think of a worse campaign theme than sacrifice, in the minds of a political class that long ago stopped asking voters to be citizens.

Try to base your vote this Tuesday on something other than tax policy because, so far, there are no serious proposals.

 

Reach the columnist at john.a.gaylord@asu.edu

 

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