Fairly early on last night, debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked Mitt Romney about deficit reduction. It's an issue the Republican talks quite a bit about, but he's offered no details and presented no plan on how he'd address the problem.
"What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare's on my list.
"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."
For now, let's put aside the fact that China only holds about 8% of the nation's debt, and Romney's suggestion to the contrary is dishonest. Instead, let's consider the proposal at face value -- Romney intends to lower the deficit, and here are two specific ways he intends to make that happen.
First, he'll destroy the Affordable Care Act. In terms of fiscal responsibility, this is insane -- "Obamacare" cuts the deficit to the tune of about $109 billion over the next decade. It's simply incoherent to say you'll cut the deficit by eliminating a law, which would in turn increase the deficit. That's like promising to put out a fire by using more kerosene.
Second, he'll cut off the Public Broadcasting System. How much does PBS get from Congress? In the most recent budget, $444 million. That's "million" with an "m." The deficit is $1.1 trillion with a "t." PBS, in other words, is a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the federal budget.
There's a very strong case to be made it's in the nation's interest to keep PBS intact, but even if we overlook the merit of the system, claiming we can balance the budget this way is plainly ridiculous.