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Marco Rubio Has a $19 Trillion Constitutional Problem

January 10, 2016

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday called for an unprecedented constitutional convention to pass nine "amendments" designed to curb the power of the federal government. (If Abbott and his ilk really want to enshrine the power of "each State acting in its sovereign and independent character," they need look no further than the Confederate Constitution of 1861.) While this kind of constitutional pathology is nothing new for a governor of the Lone Star State (as Rick Perry's flirtation with secession showed), it is far more disturbing coming from the supposed establishment choice to become the Republican nominee for President of the United States.
Nevertheless, Florida Senator Marco Rubio took to the op-pages of USA Today Wednesday to "promote a convention of states to amend the Constitution and restore limited government." Among the myriad disasters his Tea Party fantasy would necessarily entail for the United States, one is the most comically dangerous of all. As it turns out, to achieve the balanced budget he demands, President Rubio would have to slash federal spending by up to $19 trillion (or 40 percent) over the next decade.

The math behind the instantaneous Rubio Recession of 2017 is pretty straight forward. In its most recent 10 year forecast, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated federal spending at $48.6 trillion. During the same 2016 to 2025 time span, total tax revenues are forecast at $41.6 trillion. On its current path, then, the federal government will run up $7 trillion in new deficits in the coming ten years.
But as he has demanded repeatedly, Senator Rubio once again called this week for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. As he put it in his call for a constitutional convention:

This method of amending our Constitution has become necessary today because of Washington's refusal to place restrictions on itself. The amendment process must be approached with caution, which is why I believe the agenda should be limited to ideas that reduce the size and scope of the federal government, such as imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and forcing fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget requirement.

To put it another way, Senator Rubio wants to be sure that President Rubio can't run any deficits at all. Sadly, Senator Rubio has already promised a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy that will drain up $12 trillion in revenue from the U.S. Treasury over a decade. And that means that altogether, President Rubio will have to tighten Uncle Sam's belt by $19 trillion.
Now, in his defense, Rubio has claimed that his tax cuts pay for themselves, as this exchange with CNBC's John Harwood shows:

RUBIO: Well, within the ten-year window, my plan begins to create a surplus. The second point I'd make to people is, you can't tax your way into a stable budget.
HARWOOD: Wait, your plan creates a surplus because of the dynamic effect?
RUBIO: Absolutely.

As Alex Trebek of TV game show Jeopardy would say, "Ooh, sorry. That's not right."
The conservative-friendly Tax Foundation claimed that Rubio's scheme would cost Uncle Sam $6 trillion over 10 years, but only $2.4 trillion using its magical "dynamic scoring" model. After snorting that pixie dust, Rubio like his GOP rivals fantasizes that the massive economic growth triggered by lower tax rates will produce a revenue avalanche for Washington. But based on the calamitous real world experience of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, most analysts think Rubio and his Republican colleagues are delusional. Just how delusional?

A new Citizens for Tax Justice analysis of Marco Rubio's tax plan reveals that it would add $11.8 trillion to the national debt over a decade. More than a third of Rubio's tax cuts would go to the best-off 1 percent of Americans.

Now, whether you believe President Rubio will have to erase $7, $9.4, $13, $18.8 trillion or any number containing 12 zeroes in deficits over a decade, the task is an impossible one. As Jonathan Chait explained in "Why Rubionomics Is Even Crazier Than You Think":

Over the next decade, Washington is projected to collect $41.6 trillion in revenue under current policies. Rubio would reduce that to about $30 trillion. Rubio proposes to increase the defense budget -- but, for the sake of generosity, let us assume he merely keeps the budget at the current levels he decries as "setting ourselves up for danger." He likewise promises not to touch benefits for current or near-retirees, leaving those programs unavailable for cuts over that time. According to figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, expenditures on defense, Medicare, Social Security, and mandatory interest payments on the national debt will total $30.7 trillion over that period -- and that's without accounting for any other functions of the federal government at all. So Medicaid, veterans' health insurance, transportation, border security, and education, not to mention the entire federal anti-poverty budget other than Medicare and Social Security, would have to go. Oh, and Rubio has also called for an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget every year.

And two more things. First, those spending reductions of almost $19 trillion are so gigantic, ThinkProgress pointed out when a balanced budget amendment was being kicked around Congress four year ago, they would produce an economic calamity on the scale of the Great Depression:

If the 2012 budget were balanced through spending cuts, those cuts would total about $1.5 trillion in 2012 alone, the analysis estimates. Those cuts would throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.

And under President Rubio, the pain would start immediately. That's because as far back as 2011, Senator Marco Rubio insisted he would never support another increase in the debt ceiling. That March, the new freshman Senator from Florida didn't just demand a balanced budget amendment. As he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, "Why I Won't Vote to Raise the Debt Limit":

"I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."

Of course, if Marco Rubio's wishes are granted for a constitutional convention and a seat in the Oval Office, 320 million Americans will pay the price. Unless, that is, President Rubio breaks all the promise Senator Rubio has already made.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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