Romney is also promising that he will balance the budget and reduce total federal spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years. But the only big pot of money left to him is poor-people programs. So by simple process of elimination, poor-people programs will have to be cut dramatically under a Romney presidency. About 40 percent of projected spending, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Actually, that was 126 words. But I was close.
What’s not simple is imagining how that would work in practice. The Occam’s-razor explanation, of course, is that it wouldn’t. Peter Suderman, an associate editor at the libertarian magazine Reason, writes that “Romney has no real plan or interest in actually making the numbers work.”
Perhaps that’s true. But Romney says otherwise. He promises that there’s another major component, one that can make all his numbers work without savage cuts or soaring deficits: “stronger economic growth.” And in this, he’s both right and wrong.
As a matter of theory, stronger economic growth could make Romney’s plan work. When growth is faster, revenue rises and social spending falls. That’s why, historically, America’s deficits fall when growth is quick and rise during recessions. So if Romney really could double or triple the pace of economic growth, it would be much easier to make his numbers add up.
The problem is that there is no tax policy that can dramatically accelerate growth. If there were, I can assure you that the Obama administration would be trying to pass it. But to make his numbers work, Romney looks set to pretend otherwise. This is a strategy that Tim Pawlenty tried early in the Republican nomination contest, when he assumed his plan would lead to an extended period of 5 percent growth. He was roundly mocked. Romney, presumably, won’t attempt anything so crude. But he’ll have to attempt something, or his plan will score as a massive deficit creator.
The technical term for the secret sauce that Romney is using in his budget projections is “dynamic scoring.” The idea is that tax cuts make the economy grow faster. They make people work harder. They persuade rich people to stop hiding money away. And thus they don’t cost as much as a “static analysis” — one that didn’t take into account all these effects — would suggest.
That’s true, so far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far. Over the years, conservatives have clamored for Congress to use more dynamic scoring when it evaluates tax cuts. But each time the Joint Committee on Taxation or the Congressional Budget Office has looked into it, they’ve backed away. The analyses incorporate some dynamic elements, but they don’t assume the faster economic growth that some conservatives predict. And for good reason.