On Nov. 9, 2011, in a debate for GOP presidential candidates, Rick Perry declared his intention to scrap three agencies of government, but he could only remember two of them. “Oops,” the Texas Republican famously concluded.
On Nov. 10, 2015, in another debate for GOP presidential candidates, Ted Cruz was confronted with a similar situation. The senator was talking about the scope of his budget plan, bragging about his intention to “abolish” the Internal Revenue Service. The Texan added:
“But on top of that, today, we rolled out a spending plan. $500 billion in specific cuts – five major agencies that I would eliminate: the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and HUD – and then 25 specific programs.“Again, that’s on our website at tedcruz.org. You want to look at specificity? It’s easy for everyone to say, ‘Cut spending.’ It’s much harder and riskier to put out, chapter and verse, specifically the programs you would cut to stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids.”
If you listened closely to Cruz’s list of the five agencies he intends to eliminate, you may have noticed he mentioned the Department of Commerce twice. One of those was supposed to reference the Department of Education.
Now, in fairness to Cruz, this wasn’t nearly as excruciating as Perry’s “oops” moment, and it’s hard to imagine it’ll be as damaging. The senator is more rhetorically adept than his former governor, and there was no humiliating delay along the lines of what we saw four years ago. It’s funny in the abstract, though at its root, we’re left with a candidate who mentioned one cabinet agency when he meant to reference another. Other candidates similarly misspoke last night.
But that’s not what bugged me about the mistake.
First, the idea of simply eliminating four cabinet agencies, without any real notion of how to duplicate the services they provide, is impossible to take seriously. For that matter, “abolishing” the IRS may get applause from Republican audiences, but the government needs an agency that collects tax revenue.
Second, I actually took the senator up on his suggestion, went to tedcruz.org, and found his proposed spending cuts. It’s quite a list – when he’s done with the four cabinet agencies and the IRS, Cruz also intends to scrap the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and a series of offices created to protect the environment.
The same document boasts that Cruz intends to “sign a Balanced Budget Amendment.” (Presidents don’t sign constitutional amendments, as the senator should probably know.)
In other words, a President Cruz would approve trillions of dollars in tax breaks, increase military spending, and balance the budget by going after Big Bird? This, not forgetting the Department of Energy, is the real problem with Cruz’s pitch.