The conservative group Club for Growth surprised fiscal conservatives not only for coming out against the House Republican budget but for giving a rationale that is inaccurate, or at best misleading. In its press release, a club spokesman asserted: “By waiving the automatic spending cuts required under the Budget Control Act, this budget is asking Americans to trust future Congresses to do the hard work later. It is hard to have confidence that our long-term fiscal challenges will be met responsibly when the same Congress that passed the Budget Control Act wants to ignore it less than one year later. On balance, the Ryan Budget is a disappointment for fiscal conservatives.”
This is factually wrong on a number of levels. First, the sequester is not “waived.” Ryan spokesman Conor Sweeney told me, “As a factual matter, The Path to Prosperity does not waive the sequester. It reprioritizes sequester savings for Fiscal Year 2013, while leaving the enforcement mechanism in place for the years ahead.” He flatly denies there are smoke and mirrors here: “Washington will not be given a free pass on achieving the savings called for under the Budget Control Act (BCA), but we must reprioritize sequester savings to prevent devastating cuts to defense and instead reduce lower-priority spending elsewhere in the budget. That’s what The Path to Prosperity does.”
In short, the Ryan budgets comes up with alternative savings and more to achieve better spending reduction than the BCA does alone. Sweeney explains, “The Path to Prosperity not only ensures the sequester savings are achieved, but in fact advances real reforms to achieve savings far in excess of what is called for under the BCA. It cuts $5.3 trillion in spending from the President’s proposed budget, and $3.9 trillion from a current-policy baseline. In other words, The Path to Prosperity cuts far more spending than what is scheduled to be cut by the BCA sequester.”
Sweeney makes the point that the Ryan plan is the only one proposed that gets to a balanced budget. “According to official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) numbers — with static assumptions on growth, The Path to Prosperity balances the budget and puts us on the path to a debt-free future. The reforms called for by The Path to Prosperity would not only unleash job creation and greater opportunities, but the economic growth made possible by this budget’s reforms would likely achieve our fiscal goals far sooner than CBO’s limited analytical tools allow.” Ryan will have more to say on this point (i.e., CBO assumptions make his balanced budget projection look worse than a realistic economic outlook would).
Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center takes Ryan’s side on this one. He dismisses the Club for Growth’s assertions. Levin told me the club is “looking at the discretionary category by itself (where the sequester called for $950 billion in 2013 and Ryan would spend more than a trillion to reduce the defense cuts some). But he would do that by balancing that with cuts in mandatory spending. So under the sequester, total federal spending for 2013 was supposed to be $3.580 trillion and under Ryan’s budget total federal spending for 2013 would be $3.530 trillion. He spends less, not more, than the sequester, and he proposes to do it by offsetting cuts in mandatory spending.” Levin adds: “If his budget doesn’t pass (which it won’t of course), the sequester is still law for 2013; if it does pass, then we spend less, not more, than the sequester. And then this would have to be done again each year: If they succeed in reallocating mandatory spending to come in below the sequester level, then we spend less than the sequester that year; if not, then the sequester is still law. It’s not waived.”
Perhaps the Club for Growth is genuinely confused. Or maybe this is a sign that there are, alas, some in the conservative movement who are never content with anything that comes out of Washington. In most cases that is a good philosophy, but when a genuinely responsible and fiscally conservative document comes along, people should have the good sense to embrace it.