The theme of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night is the economy. But if you actually work through Donald Trump's tax and spending proposals, there's only one real conclusion to make:
His plan is quite irresponsible.
If you use our candidate tax calculator, you'll see that Trump wants to cut taxes by an astounding amount — and he wants to cut spending by about $9.5 trillion, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis. To put this in perspective, the entire budget for this fiscal year is $3.9 trillion.
We expect conservative presidential candidates to propose tax cuts, which in turn means less spending. And these campaign proposals almost never balance out perfectly, but rather signal policy philosophies and priorities. But the extent to which Trump's plan does not add up is alarming.
We made the cartoon below a few months ago, when Ted Cruz was still in the race. Cruz also proposed large spending cuts, as well as large tax cuts — and they were also unfeasible. But Trump's proposal is even more unlikely.
In the cartoon below, let's say that being at ground level is where we are now: paying for government expenses that currently exist, while adding additional expenses to the national debt. That's President Barack Obama:
But as Obama finishes his term, Republican presidential candidates have very different ideas about how much money the federal government should collect from taxpayers — and, in turn, how much money federal government should spend:
Over the next 10 years, Ted Cruz wants to cut $8.6 trillion. Donald Trump wants to cut $9.5 trillion.
So that puts them in huge holes. They need to cut government spending to get them back to ground level and balance their proposed budgets:
The problem is their proposed tax cuts are so large that it's hard to figure out how they plan to cut spending. It seems like an insurmountable amount.
But we're in luck! The Congressional Budget Office puts out a list of potential cuts, which calculates how much money each option would save over 10 years.
So let's pick some big items to cut. What if we:
- Eliminate all subsidized loans for undergraduates ($38.6 billion)
- Severely reduce Pell Grant funding, which helps poor students afford college ($140.5 billion)
- Eliminate subsidies for school breakfasts and lunches for households earning more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($10.2 billion)
- Severely reduce the number of families eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ($39.7 billion)
- Raise the retirement age for Social Security. The younger you are, the more it would go up. For those born in 1977 or later, the new retirement age would be 70 ($34.8 billion).
- Reduce Social Security benefits by 15 percent for people newly eligible for them ($204 billion)
So how far would that get Trump and Cruz?
Well, that didn't do much. Let's cut a lot more:
- Stop human space exploration ($76.9 billion)
- Reduce funding for highways ($82 billion)
- Eliminate grants to large and medium airports ($8 billion)
- Get rid of subsidies for Amtrak ($13.5 billion)
- Increase rent for people who receive federal help paying for it ($18.8 billion)
- Phase out funding to state and local governments for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure ($12.6 billion)
- Eliminate education grants to state and local governments that address the physical, emotional, and social well-being of students ($11.8 billion)
- Stop building new aircraft carriers ($11.8 billion)
- Don't purchase nearly 2,500 fancy fighter jet planes that are being newly developed (F-35 Joint Strike Fighters) and instead purchase planes already in production ($31.4 billion)
- Cut down on the number of ballistic missile submarines in operation ($14.9 billion)
- Reduce international affairs programs — diplomatic, consular, and global health-related, among others — by 25 percent ($109 billion)
That surely took out a big chunk of the proposed cuts, right?
Okay, this isn't working. These were the realistic options put forth by the Congressional Budget Office, and we picked the big-money items — but still, Trump and Cruz are deep in the hole.
It's time to reset the math and make some unrealistic cuts. It's time to eliminate entire categories of government spending. We need to get these guys out of the hole.
We are going to start from scratch and cut entire categories of spending, as opposed to the smaller, realistic cuts we explored before.
So what if we cut all funding for transportation — for highways, mass transit, and aviation, among other things — which would save about $1 trillion for the next 10 years?
And what if we cut all funding for veterans benefits and services, which would save about $800 billion?
Oh, and for good measure, what if we eliminate funding for US consulates, embassies, military assistance to allies, aid to developing nations, and international peacekeeping efforts, saving about $650 billion?
Nope, not even close.
Okay, what if we eliminated environmental protection programs, saving about $400 billion over the next 10 years?
And eliminated federal justice programs, including the FBI, federal courts, drug and firearm enforcement, and federal prisons, among others? That would save about $600 billion.
And who needs NASA, right? Or the National Science Foundation? Or all the other science, space, and technology programs? Eliminate them and save about $350 billion.
Oh, and for good measure, let's eliminate all funding that allows the federal government to function. That saves about $200 billion.
Cutting these massive federal government functions hasn't even gotten us halfway out of the hole.
Enough playing around. Let's eliminate the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Let's eliminate all defense programs. That's a whopping $6.7 trillion — with a T — over the next 10 years.
(Okay, so this won't happen, and Trump is actually proposing an increase in military spending. But for the sake of this thought experiment, just play along.)
There, that did it — and in fact, that leaves Cruz $2 trillion for the military in the next decade (a third of what we currently spend on defense), and leaves Trump about $1.1 trillion (an sixth of what we currently spend).
But in order to get here, the US can no longer fund improvements to transportation infrastructure, help veterans, fund research into technology and science, explore and research space, operate a justice system, fund the FBI, protect the environment, maintain relations with other countries — oh, and it can't keep the majority of the military.
We got Trump and Cruz out of the hole by eliminating entire portions of government. That's not realistic. And we didn't touch on possibilities of cutting mandatory spending, which would slash into Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Trump has promised he would not cut Medicare or Social Security, while Cruz has said he would slash social security by 19 percent.
(Don't worry, you can cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the interactive below.)
On top of all of this, they've both said they want an amendment that forces a balanced budget. We don't even have a balanced budget right now. So supporting this amendment would prevent these tax cuts from being unloaded onto the national debt.
Now it's your turn.
Try to balance the budget yourself with the interactive here. Good luck.