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Fiscal Responsibility is Hard

July 1, 2010

The senatorial candidate debate last night highlighted how hard being  a fiscal conservative it is going to be after the November elections.

There were a couple of questions last night about healthcare; both candidates were in favor of repeal. Ken Buck acknowledged that Congress, even with conservative majorities in both houses, could not repeal Obamacare over a presidential veto; Jane Norton said we need to pull it out by the roots. Ken gave some options to deal with it in the short-term by not funding it and then going for the repeal in 2012. Jane, reflecting her background in the Department of Health, gave practical alternatives to Obamacare such as the kind of tort reform we have in Colorado. Both favored a balanced budget amendment. So far, so good.

Later, Jeff Crank asked a question about budget cuts: with $13 Trillion of debt, what five programs and two agencies would they eliminate? It was a tough question which appeared to have caught both candidates a bit flat-footed. Ken mentioned a few pieces of low-hanging fruit and described how education should be pushed down to the state and local level; Jane said that cutting spending was “the absolute reason” she’s running and gave examples of foolish spending on the part of government. No real specific examples, though.

Jeff was not satisfied and with the aid of modern technology when it came his turn again he said that the amount of cuts Ken had suggested off the top of his head amounted to “only” $6.7 billion—the amount, Crank said, that the federal government spends in 2 ½ days.  Sobering. Jane began by saying that we should abolish the Department of Education and block-grant the money to the states. However, since 80% of the department’s budget is already going directly to the states, this is no savings at all. She also mentioned Social Security and Medicare saying that we wouldn’t touch 55+ but would revise it for those under that age. Ken mentioned cutting the Department of Energy and said we should look hard across the board.

I don’t think either of them had great answers; the questions highlighted just how serious the budget crisis is and how much must be cut. I’ve mentioned before the Cato Institute’s Downsizing the Federal Government site for a great analysis, department by department, of how cuts can be made. The House GOP has also started the You Cut! program which highlights five wasteful programs every week.

These are all great ideas but the problem is that this administration is spending so much, so fast, that it will be very difficult to fix. Just wait until they lose in November: see how much pork they can pass between November and January. That’s exactly the way the Democrats want it.  Obama has already dared us to cut. We’ll see how serious you are, he said.

He’ll find out. We’re dead serious.

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