Balancing the Budget: Andrew Sullivan’s Reply

AB reader JC suggests that I reply to this post. Kevin Drum already has:

• Repeal Medicare prescription bill. (This is funded out of the general fund, so it counts.) This program only started this year and contributed nothing to the 2005 deficit. Total savings: $0.
• Abolish earmarks. Total savings: $25 billion, although I’m being generous here.
• Abolish agricultural subsidies. Total savings: $30 billion.
• End corporate welfare. This typically refers to special tax treatment, so abolishing it is a tax increase, not a spending cut. Total savings: $0.
• Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it’s a tax increase. Total savings: $0.
• Eliminate all tax loopholes. This is a tax increase. Total savings: $0.
• Abolish the NEA: Total savings: $.1 billion.
• Abolish the Education Department: Total savings: $65 billion.

For Duncan Black’s reply, see his Wonking Sullivan:

Let’s try to separate the things which are tax increases and those which are spending cuts.

Tax increases:
Repeal estate tax cut
A dollar a gallon gas tax increase
Eliminating all tax loopholes (?) and deductions except the charitable deduction.

Spending cuts:
Repealing Medicare drug plan.
Abolish agricultural subsidies.
Eliminate NEA and Department of Education.

As Kevin pointed out, the Medicare drug plan was not responsible for those past deficits, which by General Fund accounting often exceeded $600 billion a year. Also, cutting the Department of Education budget would either mean we reduce our investment in education or require shifting the tax burden for doing so back onto state and local governments.

But what about this from Sully:

Means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen)

Fine – if we decide to cut Social Security benefits in order to privative Social Security, wouldn’t that also imply that we would be reducing payroll contributions?If so, these joint reductions do nothing to reduce the General Fund deficit. Of course, we could cut benefits and keep payroll contributions at their current levels, which should be seen as a backdoor employment tax increase.

Max Sawicky notes that Sullivan’s recommended tax increases would go a long way to balancing the budget. So, Sully is for tax increases on at least some of us.