Congressman Paul Broun, R-Athens, is the only announced candidate in the election next year to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. I met with him last week while I was in Washington, and the thing he talked about over and over was cutting federal spending.
“I expect to win” next year’s election, he told me. “Georgians know I have the record. I have the will to say no to out-of-control spending. And I’m the only person who can be in this race who has done so, and they’ll elect me to the U.S. Senate.”
Asked about the possibility that two or three of his fellow House members could join him in the race, Broun replied: “I hope they’ll see the wisdom of staying where they are instead of losing to me.”
Strong words, as were the ones Broun wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday. In the op-ed, Broun criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest budget — the one Democrats have railed against as Draconian — as instead being inadequate.
“Spending [under the Ryan plan] would grow by an average of 3.4 percent annually, only slightly less than the rate under President Obama’s plan, which is 5 percent a year. After 10 years — Mr. Ryan’s target for eliminating the deficit — the ‘Path to Prosperity’ will have spent $41 trillion, when the president’s plan would allow spending of $46 trillion. My party’s de facto position has become ‘we’re increasing spending, but not as much as the other guy.’ That’s not good enough.
Just reducing growth in spending does almost nothing. We have to dig deeper and make profound cuts now. We cannot continue to assume that future Congresses will do our dirty work for us.
Broun is right that Republicans cannot be merely Democrats Lite. And let’s note it may behoove Broun to oppose the Ryan budget as too soft, given that the Budget vice chairman is one of his potential Senate opponents, Rep. Tom Price.
But is that really the only difference between the Ryan plan and Obama’s? Is increasing spending by 3.4 percent a year really only “slightly” different than increasing it by 5 percent?
No, it isn’t. Set aside the fact that, as Broun acknowledges, there’s a difference of $5 trillion during the next decade — a difference that, even by today’s bloated budget standards, is a huge one. We can also see a very large difference if we apply those spending growth rates to years past.
Take the years 1994 through 2009, which encompass the Clinton and Bush years and reflect periods of time when Republicans and Democrats took turns controlling both chambers of Congress. There were surpluses toward the end of the Clinton years (which I’m defining as fiscal 1994-2001, regardless of the overlap with Bush’s presidency in 2001) whereas there were deficits during Bush’s tenure (2002-2009, even though Obama was president during part of FY09).
Democrats love to give credit for the Clinton-era surpluses to his tax hikes, and blame for the Bush-era deficits to his tax cuts. But as we’re going to see, the biggest difference was the growth of spending.
Nominal spending (that is, spending not adjusted for inflation — the same measure by which we get the comparable growth rates in Broun’s op-ed) grew by an average of 5.9 percent during the combined Clinton and Bush eras. But the average rate was only 3.6 percent under Clinton and a whopping 8.3 percent under Bush.
What if spending had grown by 3.4 percent every year from 1994 to 2009? What if it had grown by 5 percent? Check out this table, which assumes revenues would have been the same as actual for the entire period:
Let me put that another way: Between 1994 and 2009, the difference between a 3.4 percent rate of growth and a 5 percent rate would have been about $4.7 trillion.
(NB: Yes, that’s a larger difference between the 3.4 percent scenario and 5 percent growth than with the 5.9 percent actual average growth rate. That’s the magic of compound interest. In these examples, spending grew at exactly the same rate every single year. In reality, it grew more slowly early on, meaning the base was smaller when the faster growth rates hit.)
The difference during the Bush years would have been stark. In reality, deficits from 2002 through 2009 totaled almost $3.5 trillion. Had spending grown by 3.4 percent every year during his and Clinton’s presidency, though, Bush would have logged a cumulative surplus of about $98 billion. Even with his tax cuts in place.
Whether we’re talking about a 16-year period in the past or a 10-year period in the future, a difference of $3 trillion to $5 trillion remains a big deal.
So, yes, there is a big difference between 3.4 percent and 5 percent. The Ryan budget may or may not be realistic, and it may or may not be politically feasible. But it would be a far sight better than the Democrats’ even bigger-spending plans.
– By Kyle Wingfield