The idea of the Republican war on budgeting is pretty simple: For most Republicans, “deficit” simply means stuff they don’t like, and what the federal government spends doesn’t have anything to do with what the federal government raises.
What that means is that for any “war on budgeting” Republicans — which certainly includes Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — the actual budget deficit just doesn’t matter.
And today we saw what has to be one of the best examples of this that you’ll ever get. Apparently, the contradiction between running against Barack Obama over the Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act and simultaneously supporting those cuts in Ryan’s House Republican Budget finally got to be too obviously a fraud, and Ryan today flipped on it: He now opposes the cuts that he’s previously been supporting (while running against them).
So that’s $716 billion in additional spending that Ryan now supports.
And to balance it off?
Why would they? If “deficit” merely means stuff they don’t like, then deciding that they like that $716 billion in spending just means that it goes on the other side of the ledger; it’s now good spending, which — like good tax cuts — has nothing to do with the deficit.
Benjy Sarlin has a good piece detailing how “confusing” this leaves the Republican budget position, but it’s really confusing only if you believe in, well, budgeting — if you believe that things have to add up, or at least that federal budget deficits are the difference between federal budget expenditures and federal government revenues.
But if you don’t believe in budgeting, then there’s no reason for offsets; the whole concept really doesn’t make any sense. Governments should only spend money on good things, and should only raise revenues from good taxes. And that’s all you have to do.
And so, in the war-on-budgeting view of the world, deciding that $716 billion is good instead of bad has absolutely no budget implications at all, other than that it becomes important to actually spend that money.