The proposals would, in some fashion, ratchet spending back to levels not seen in decades and would require actions akin to ending a major program such as Medicare or cutting the entire defense budget, The Washington Times reported Monday.
The plans include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's pledge to cap government spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product -- down from the current 24 percent -- and pledges by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas that would cut more than 40 percent from current spending to levels unseen since the 1950s.
Such proposals are "totally unrealistic," Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan budget watchdog Concord Coalition, a fiscal responsibility advocacy group.
"It may look good on paper, but I don't think they realistically confront the automatic cost growth that is built in for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and a realistic plan is going to have to deal with that," Bixby said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's goal to limit the federal government to 18 percent of GDP would mean a spending reduction of 6 percent of GDP -- more than the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid in 2011, or more than the cost of Social Security or more than the entire defense budget.
"If you are going to keep spending at 20 percent of GDP, you are going to have to find a way to cut other spending by that much to offset the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," Bixby said. "If you are going to cut 5 [percent] or 6 percent of GDP out of discretionary programs, that means cutting about 75 percent of what we spend on everything else -- all the appropriations, including defense."
While the candidates' plans generally proffer lower spending targets while pushing the concept of reshaping entitlement programs to save money, they lack what specific changes would be made to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the fact that real savings from gradually increasing the retirement age or means-testing programs would be beyond the 10-year budget cycle, the Times said.
"You are certainly not going to get big savings this decade," Bixby said. "That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it because you want to get the savings in the out years."