Tea Party's Newest Demand: Cut $1 Trillion in 2011

With the 2011 deficit projected to top $1.3 trillion, a spokesman for Rand Paul, the Tea Party-backed Senate candidate in Kentucky, told the Daily Beast's Benjamin Sarlin that Paul "will vote against and filibuster any unbalanced budget proposal in the Senate."

He might not be an outlier. "I personally think a balanced budget is imperative and I think there's tremendous support for a balanced budget," said Mark Meckler, a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots, told Sarlin.

The only way to close a trillion-dollar budget deficit is to raise taxes or cut spending by a trillion dollars. Since there is no appetite among conservatives to raise taxes, that means that Paul and other Tea Party candidates must be talking about cutting one trillion dollars, more than 25 percent of the budget, in 2011.

Let's take this plan seriously. Most conservatives would begin by canceling the stimulus, which is still expected to spend about $100 billion in 2011. Conservatives might also call for freezing public salaries, canceling TARP,  freezing discretionary spending at 2008 levels, and beginning to phase in Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to cut $1.3 trillion over the next decade. Let's say that saves another $100-$150 billion in 2011.

You're still more than $1 trillion away from a balanced budget. You could cancel Social Security for the year ($700 billion) and stop paying every soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq (another $170 billion in proposed spending), and you still wouldn't have a balanced budget. 

Rudy Penner, CBO chief under President Reagan, called a balanced budget "implausible." Coming from a movement that considers itself overtaxed, I'd say that's putting things lightly.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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