Sesame Street’s Big Bird has become an overnight icon for Democrats, mainly as they seek to scrounge something positive from an otherwise disastrous debate last week between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
The Big Bird issue is not silly, though, in that it represents the extreme cuts Romney must implement if he is to meet his conflicting promises. Big Bird is minor. The more likely cuts are not.
In the debate, Romney was asked how he would both keep his promise to reduce the deficit and keep his various promises to reduce taxes.
Romney mentioned two cuts he would make. One, he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. Two, he would cut funding of the Public Broadcasting Corp., which produces Sesame Street.
The problem with repealing the Affordable Care Act is that its repeal would not reduce the deficit, but increase it. The problem with cutting PBS — even if it’s a good idea — is that it accounts for only 0.01 percent of the federal budget.
So neither example provides an explanation of how he can meet his conflicting promises.
While he says he would slash taxes for all Americans, including the most wealthy, he promised in the debate that the wealthy would not see a reduction in their tax burden because he would eliminate loopholes and deductions. But Wednesday, he promised he would not eliminate one of the most costly deductions, that for mortgage interest. Even if he exhibited the political will to cut every deduction available to the wealthy, he could not reduce the deficit.
Complicating things even more, Romney promises massive increases in military spending.
The problem for Romney — one that should concern Americans of both parties — is that the math does not work. Cutting taxes and increasing military expenditures both increase the deficit.
The only variable buried in the equation is a hoped-for increase in economic activity — and thus tax revenue — resulting from lower tax rates. Cuts by former presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, however, demonstrate that any increase in economic activity will come far short of offsetting the tax revenue lost from lower tax rates.
To paraphrase a pundit, it’s as if Romney promised he would drive from Decatur to Birmingham in 15 minutes while maintaining the speed limit. Something has to give.
The question of what will give is why many voters are concerned about Romney’s comments on the 47 percent of people who do not have high enough wages to pay income taxes: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The moral outrage that both Romney and his running mate demonstrate not at poverty, but at the poor, suggests an obvious starting point in their effort to make good on their conflicting promises. Providing opportunity to people who are worthless, who have proved their cultural and moral inferiority by being poor, is not a sound investment. From their perspective, it’s a great place to make cuts.
Romney can’t make it to Birmingham in 15 minutes, but he will run over a lot of poor Alabamians in the attempt.