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July 12, 2011

Conservatives Push 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' Pledge: What Would it Do?

With the federal debt the number one political issue in Washington, conservative groups are asking candidates to sign  “cut, cap, and balance” pledge, calling for drastic cuts in spending to curb debt. Many of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary have already signed on (Michele Bachmann is the one notable exception). The pledge would do more than cut spending; it would make current Republican proposals in Washington seem tame.


The pledge includes three proposals:

– Cut spending to decrease next year's deficit

– Cap spending to “enforceable levels”

– Pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Together, these policies would mean severe cuts in domestic programs than even the Republican budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives. The so-called 'Roadmanp for America's Future' was proposed by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). The roadmap includes cuts to both discretionary and mandatory spending, changes to the tax code, and a reform of welfare and health programs.

The roadmap is nothing if not bold—for some, its cuts are draconian, for others it is the kind of radical reform needed. Regardless, it is less severe than the cuts that would result under the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” pledge.

The budget amendment alone would mean cutting the equivalent of all discretionary spending, including the entire defense budget. Under the current budget, mandatory spending (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) alone is nearly as much as government revenue. Add in interest payments on the debt, and the result is a deficit. To achieve a balanced budget, Congress would need to find over $1 trillion dollars to cut from the budget. The roadmap, even with its arguably rosy economic assumptions, does not foresee a balanced budget any time in the next decade.

The pledge is vague on specifics, but in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the authors of the pledge gave this pledge concrete figures that show the seriousness of the cuts being proposed.

First, they want enough spending reductions to cut the deficit in half immediately, amounting to around $800 billion in spending cuts. This is equivalent to eliminating all discretionary domestic spending plus half of the defense budget since $800 billion is roughly the budget for both Medicare and Medicaid combined. The roadmap, under the best circumstances, would not cut the deficit in half until 2013 or 2014.

Second, they propose capping spending to 18 percent of GDP. Currently, spending is almost 25 percent of GDP. If all discretionary spending was eliminated, there would still need to be additional cuts needed to bring spending below 18 percent. Further cuts would need to be made to defense or spending. These cuts would need to be about half of the Medicare budget.

The roadmap does not expect to reach this 18 percent figure. Instead, it hopes to average around 20.5 percent of GDP over the next decade. This means that to achieve the pledge goals, an additional $500 billion would need to be cut from the budget.

For deficit hawks, the popularity of the pledge among presidential candidates may seem to be a hopeful sign. History suggests this optimism should be tempered. Promises often fail to materialize in budget negotiations.

One of the best examples of this failure ironically appears on the Concerned Women for America (CWA)'s “Declaration About Our Fiscal Crisis.” The CWA “Declaration” begins with a quotation from President Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address where he warned of the dangers of deficits, the need to stop borrowing, and a call to live within our means. The CWA called the statement “prophetic.” 

Reagan's warning was prophetic—not only for today's politics but also for Reagan's own fiscal policies. In Reagan's first year in office, the federal debt was just shy of $1 trillion. Over the next eight years, the debt nearly tripled to $2.9 trillion. If history tells us something, perhaps the pledge may end up making little difference on the size of the federal debt.


I agree that we need to cut. So let's start with cutting the military by 25%. Then let's cut congress' salaries, pensions, health care and staff costs by 25%. After all, many who are against increasing the debt ceiling helped create our problems by deregulation, voting huge budgets and generally selling their loyalties to the highest bidder. (The banks are now bigger and more powerful than ever.) And we also need to increase taxes by ending subsidies, ending all loopholes, and increasing taxes for those who make over $150,000. For those who call themselves Christians, a reminder - God's judgment of leaders who did not care for the poor - the orphan, widow and alien (immigrant) is regular and harsh in the Bible.

By covering this issue in an article without even mentioning the potential damaging effects upon the poor, CT abdicates its Christian responsibilities.

Civil taxation is not God's plan for caring for the needy. Dan, that simply is not Biblical. As sons and daughters of the King, we are indeed called free the captives (Isa 61) and to assure basic needs of all are covered (Acts 2). But this is the role of the Church... not just the corner building in town that calls itself a church, but you and I and all believers. Our theology has gotten soft around the edges and confused with worldly retoric. Let us dig deeper into what we as Christians are called to be and do. How will we fare on that great day of Judgement? I think we will be amazed and saddened by all that God had purposed for each one of us to understand and to accomplish if only we had laid our heads on His chest to listen more intently. There indeed is still hope and still time.

The pols in Washington are, generally speaking, a criminal class masquerading as representatives of "the people", while actually representing the people who campaign-financed them and the lobbyists who represent the heavily-shekelled special interests. The 2008 Wall Street meltdown, covered in the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job" and Michael Lewis's book "The Big Short", has resulted in none of those responsible for so much financial suffering which has been let loose on middle-class America and the rest of the world being charged, while those not responsible do the actual suffering. This is siding with the bad guys against the innocent. Babylon, Babylon, Babylon all over again..

All these conservative "pledges" undermine the constitution and good government. I think of myself as a conservative but I could never vote for someone who undercuts the governing process. A politician can pledge allegiance to the flag and to the constitution but as soon as he or she pledges to Grover Norquist or some other pledge, responsibility is abdicated.

The assumption here is that anyone who reads Christianity Today must by default be a political conservative, obsessively, almost religiously committed to making sure the rich pay fewer taxes, at the expense of those who rely on public assistance simply to stay alive. The fact that your article doesn't even attempt to give a biblical basis for this ideology is telling in itself. I agree with the earlier comment. CT has abdicated its Christian responsibilities.

There is no biblical basis whatsoever for the government helping the poor. There is a biblical basis for the church and individuals to help the poor, but there is absolutely nothing about the government doing it.

It is easy to forget that the government is the people. I want my taxes to help the poor eat, find jobs, get educations and learn to live responsibly. I don't want my taxes to enrich the rich, but I fear that is what they are doing. I want my taxes to educate our cildren, provide services that benefit everyone. I want my representatives to be responsible servants of the people. Am I dreaming?

I agree with Pax Paws and Barbara. Let us force ourselves to do what we must do with the orphan, widow and the poor. The government has taken over our job and refused to let God get the credit. Let a Godless government do the Godless jobs and the Christians do the Christ glorifying things-please let our tax dollars go to the glory of God! with the tie that binds.

@ Charles et al, while Christians might protest that the government (& thank you Joy, for reminding everyone that we are the government) is on their poverty-alleviation turf, it is questionable if American Christians have either the will or the capacity to meet the needs of the nation's poor. Even if we think we could do it better, right now Christians share costs of Biblically mandated care of the poor with fellow citizens of all creeds. The same evangelicals that resist any and all tax increases are hardly likely to embrace the deep personal financial costs that it would take to shift the burden of poverty programs entirely on Christians.

I would say it's a virtual certainty that every time I read comments about government spending in Christianity Today, there will be back and forth arguments just like these. All I would say to those who say it's the church and not the government who should care for the poor, I would point out that it's the church and not the government who should provide the moral framework in which we live. You can't have it both ways. You can't fight for the government to endorse and make laws promoting some aspects of your theology (i.e. marriage and abortion issues), and then say it's not up to the government to promote those other aspects (i.e. caring and feeding the poor). Either the government is a force for the church or it isn't. Could it be that the religious items many push the government to promote are the ones that don't cost them any money? And to those who use God's call to help the downtrodden as a reason for government intervention...the opposite argument applies to you. Are you willing to fight for other aspects of God's commands to be implemented into government policy?

I am a conservative and I am not rich but making the rich pay for the poor thru taxes does not work since all they do is put the taxes as an expense and charge us the not so poor. And as far as helping the poor I think ministries (like the Salvation Army / Samaritans Purse) help the 'poor' better than Big Government. I know couples who can not get married if they want their NEEDED food stamps and other 'benefits' how is this helping the poor how is this Bibical? Let us wake up people and get our hands dirty and not let Big Government do our JOB as Christians for us.

Cut and Cap OK - we have a SPENDING problem. Forget the Amendment, DOA and should be! Congress is given the power to borrow here (and no power to delegate its debt authority) - what about a war demanding more immediate expenditures? Another amendment? Let's get real, be adults, and balance our books without the assist - almost like a liturgical prop - unnecessary!

The government is not separate from the individual..our government is of the people, by the people and for the people...or so it is supposed to be. My bible clearly says that God will judge the nations...I think that covers our government and what our government does with our public money. If we choose to spend most of it on the biggest military complex in the world and ignore the least among us..we will be judged accordingly. That's not a threat, it's just a fact and ultimately our choice. Our individual responsibility does not end at the ballot box, it begins there.

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.' Deuteronomy 15:11
It is true that Christians have a moral and biblical responsibility to help those in need. BUT I do not believe that plasma televisions, $30,000 vehicles and expensive clothing were ever to be considered a "need" to our brothers and poor. Welfare cuts are needed to affect those who aren't truly in NEED. There is a difference between needing money to eat and needing money for the material items that you want to have in order to keep up with the Jones'. Welfare should be in place for those who truly cannot work or do work yet need a little extra help. I want my taxes to go toward such people. I do not however want my taxes going to those who have the material items which I cannot afford even working 50 hours a week, I do not want them going toward the food stamp recipients who are in line ahead of me at the grocery store buying steak and seafood and I certainly do not want them going toward the BMW and Mercedes that are sitting in the Welfare parking lot when I drive past. It's time the government put an end to handouts that are not deserved. Put a little money into welfare enforcement and reform and I guarantee you will see that the small amount spent on such enforcement will be returned in multitude once you remove the greedy from the list of needy in the welfare line. It may be just a start to our budget issues but every penny matters at this point.

" I do not believe that plasma televisions, $30,000 vehicles and expensive clothing were ever to be considered a "need" to our brothers and poor. Welfare cuts are needed to affect those who aren't truly in NEED."

This is the Cadillac driving welfare-queen misconception rearing its ugly head again. No one on Food stamps, temporary TANF, or section 8 housing can afford a lavish lifestyle. Unless they are engaging in tax evasion, but if that really is a problem, then it is an argument for increasing anti-fraud enforcement.

Plus, aside from Medicaid the federal government does not spend much on the poor. Bloomberg has a nice tool showing the 306B in bills that the goverment has in August vs. the 172B in revenue. There is no way to make up the 134B monthly shortfall by cutting things like food stamps (7B), TANF (2B), HUD (6B).

Jesus teaches us not to damage the wheat by tearing out all the tares. So while common-sense anti-fraud measures make sense, Christians shouldn't push it as far as to risk putting innocent people on the street. Just like in criminal justice, it shouldn't be so tough that it will lead to the execution of the innocent people. If mistakes can't be completely eliminated, better err on the side of letting the guilty go free than on that of executing the innocent. And yes, cutting Medicaid from people who have cancer is a death sentence, people will die (and have already died in Arizona)

I am politically modeate and believe that people that can help themselves should not recieve welfare. But there are people out there that do need the food stamps and help with their medical expenses, among other things! But I wonder why the consrvatives do NOT contribute to food banks, homeless shelters, the Salvation Army and many more institutions out there taht do help! They do not CARE if these people die, they only care about themselves!! They would rather die than to go help at a mealsite for the poor or a place that would distribute food to the poor, and cannot stand the thought of their other rich friends finding out about it because they would excommunicated from their social cirle! I think if they want their big tax breaks, they should go out and serve the poor to recieve the tax breaks. And they should set up scholarships that would help these people get vocational training to get good paying jobs.

Doug, it is so sad when someone like you falls for the lies of the liberals who love to make a class warfare. The conservatives want to make cuts, instead of raising taxes, and there is MUCH waste in government that can be stopped, so that more money can be used for the poor. It is the liberals who want to keep the poor the way they are, and dependent on money from the government instead of being the best they can be. Look at the unemployment under obama, it's actually close to 20%. It doesn't count a whole lot of people, like the 80% of college graduates who are living at home with their parents because there are no jobs for them. Does it help that obama has stopped all US companies from oil drilling, while allowing foreign companies to drill here? Does it help that obama makes stricter standards for emissions from cars and then gives the money to foreign car makers to develop the cars? That you Mr Obama, but we could develop them here just as well. He gives several billions of dollars to Pakistan and other people who are not friends of the US.

Another note-and this always makes the liberals livid, but you can check it out here: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/colaseries.html

It is the democrats who have NOT allowed a cost of living increase for those on social security, the poorest of the poor. They did not give them cost of living adjustments for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. They received a close to 6% cost of living increase under Bush in 2008, and raises every single previous year. And of course, Congress voted themselves a cost of living increase. Liberals, go ahead and be livid about the facts, but facts are facts. You just don't like it when your group is caught with their hands in the dirt. The Conservatives have voted for a cost of living increase for those on social security EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Obama would also like to do away with all coal mining and put the miners out of business as well. He also just signed into law the DREAM act, by executive fiat, since Congress, which was following the will of the people, voted against the Dream act, giving something like 20 million illegal aliens their citizenship. His spending, which has put our country into debt of over 14 trillion dollars, is going to bankrupt our country. That, combined with his orders to not drill for oil (and many other things), while allowing foreign countries to drill, is only ruining our country. Conservatives would love to see people back at work. This president has people living in tent cities outside of cities like Las Vegas and Fresno, and many others. Our country has never had so many empty homes because people have had to abandon them because there are no jobs for the people. Obama only has a history of failed policies and a country headed for a depression worse than the one in the 1930's. The lies by the liberals are horrendous. Even JFK lowered taxes to bring in more tax revenue. That is what works every time to bring in more money. The liberals are just doing what they are best at-class warfare. As it is, only 50% of the people pay any income tax at all, and the other 50% are on the receiving end. The conservatives plans will put more people back to work and will give our country the great stimulus it needs. It is indeed time for a change.

We need a balance approch to the dedt celing. We need to cut spending and raise taxes on the rich to Clintions level. ok so the republicans say we cant raise taxes on " job creaters" ok lets not if you can prove you are a small company that will creat jobs you would be exempt from the tax hick.Then let us see the republicns argue about the tax hick then. I think that they just do not want to raise taxes on them self's. My Bush tax cuts to creat jobs oh I see the trilions added to the debt, and the root of our bad economy and unemploymet because of the Bush tax cuts, but wear are the jobs.

As a liberal, I checked Barbara's link. I did not get livid. Not sure why this is supposed to make a liberal livid. Also would like to know some of the horrendous lies Barbara attributes to liberals. Regarding Kennedy and tax cuts, here are some facts from David Greenberg: