Who’s the “conservative” candidate in Wisconsin’s Senate race? The answer may surprise you.
That’s because both Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin have plans that go farther than Paul Ryan’s House budget, the touchstone document for conservatives.
If it’s small government you most want, Thompson has a plan to cut federal spending even more than Ryan’s House budget.
If shrinking the federal debt is your top concern, Baldwin has a plan with lower deficits and greater debt-reduction than the House budget.
The differences between Thompson and Baldwin are especially important because their race may determine which party controls the Senate.
And while both are reliable supporters of their party and its presidential candidate, each has proposed budget refinements that make the contrast between them even starker than that between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Thompson would cut government spending more severely than the House budget because of his goal “to limit federal spending to roughly 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product [GDP].”
That’s a huge cut from the current 24 percent of GDP. It’s much deeper than the House budget, which doesn’t get below 20 percent until 2016. Thompson’s 18 percent goal isn’t achieved in the House budget until 2045.
To hit Thompson’s goal in 2016, for example, would mean cutting $319 billion more on top of the $407 billion already cut in the House budget, compared with current law. That’s the equivalent of more than half the defense budget in additional cuts beyond the House budget.
Thompson also goes beyond the House budget on taxes, by proposing an option to let taxpayers pay at “a flat 15 percent rate.” The House plan moves toward a flat tax by merging the six current tax brackets into two. But Thompson goes further, to a single bracket.
Even with deductions and exemptions eliminated, a 15 percent rate means lower taxes only for the top tenth of taxpayers, those with pre-tax incomes above $400,000.
Baldwin earns her anti-deficit credentials through her support for the budget alternative offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She’s among a handful of vice-chairs of the 76-person group.
The Progressive budget mirrors much of Obama’s, but differs in some important ways. It spends more in the next few years (for example, investments to cut unemployment) but less over the long term because of cutbacks in defense.
It outdoes all other proposals in its deficit reduction goals. Its combination of lower defense spending and higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations means that over the next decade, it will have run $161 billion less in deficits than the House budget.
The Progressive budget spends $786 billion more than current policy over the next two years on job creation and infrastructure. It would save $1.9 trillion over the next decade by bringing troops home sooner and trimming the Defense Department. It also restores the estate tax; taxes income from investments at the same rate as income from wages; and adds new top brackets ranging from 45 percent (income above $1 million) to 49 percent (income above $1 billion).
There’s a sharp contrast between Romney and Obama, but an even sharper one between Thompson and Baldwin. Whoever is President will propose a budget, but the makeup of the Senate will have a lot to do with what actually becomes law. The stakes are especially high in the race for Wisconsin’s open Senate seat.
Jack Norman, Director, Tax Fairness WI, a joint project of Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and Citizen Action of Wisconsin