By Francis Wilkinson
At Wednesday night's Republican debate in Mesa, Arizona, Texas Representative Ron Paul labeled former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania a "fake" conservative. His reasoning: Santorum failed to rein in public spending and federal power when in Congress.
An analysis of the four Republican candidates' tax proposals by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget suggests there is plenty of fakery on display in the Republican primary. Though the Republicans constantly bemoan the federal deficit, only Paul has a plan that would actually reduce it. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich would all add to the deficit -- precipitously in the case of Santorum and outlandishly in the case of Gingrich.
The study projects that the current trajectory of federal spending and revenue -- assuming the Bush tax cuts are extended indefinitely along with other current policies -- will yield a debt-to-GDP ratio of 85 percent in 2021.
Taking the medium projection of three different scenarios, Romney's plan of aggressive tax cuts, heavily weighted toward high-income earners, would put the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2021 at somewhere between 85 and 96 percent, depending on the offsets Romney employed, such as closing tax loopholes. For Santorum, the debt-to-GDP ratio would rise to 104 percent by 2021. Under Gingrich's apparently lunar-based accounting, the ratio would be 114 percent -- and that doesn't include whatever dramatic federal programs Gingrich endorses in the next hour, let alone next week.
Like his fellow Republicans, Paul proposes massive tax cuts. But unlike the others, he would pay for them by dismantling much of the federal government and pursuing a cheaper, isolationist foreign policy. While Romney would add about $2.5 trillion to the national debt by 2021, Santorum $4.5 trillion, and Gingrich $7 trillion, Paul would reduce the debt by $2.2 trillion.
Of course, Paul has also acknowledged that he's unlikely to be elected president. And he surely knows that his plan would not be enacted even if he were. His attack on Santorum, however, is consistent with Paul's curious brand of anti-establishment insurgency. Having first attacked Newt Gingrich when Gingrich appeared to threaten Romney's frontrunner status, Paul is now running negative a negative ad seeking to halt the Santorum surge. In both instances, the beneficiary has been Romney, the candidate of the Republican establishment.
In this primary, everybody's faking something.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
-0- Feb/23/2012 17:13 GMT