Math Is Hard: John Thune’s Plan To Eliminate Deficits In 10 Many, Many Years

Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) — the fifth highest ranking Republican in the Senate — has a new plan for lowering deficits, and as you might expect from GOP leadership, it involves zero tax hikes. It does however, involve math and, if his appearance on Fox News last night is any indication, Thune finds math rather difficult. There’s really no other way to explain his utter failure to remember the law of diminishing returns when he talked about the benefits of his deficit reduction plan.Appearing on Fox News, Thune and host Greta Van Susteren discussed the bill’s call for the creation of a Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, tasked with reducing the deficit 10 percent year over year.

“It would be required to find 10% in savings — 10% of the deficit in savings every budget cycle,” Thune said.

“So in 10 years we wouldn’t have a deficit?” van Sustern asked.

“Theoretically, yes,” Thune replied. “10% Is a floor. Obviously — you can go beyond that.”

This is what’s known in think tank (and Twitter) circles as a #mathfail.

According to Thune’s plan, “the new Joint Committee must introduce legislation that eliminates or reduces spending on wasteful government programs and achieves a savings of at least 10 percent of the previous year’s budget deficit.” Because the deficit would decrease yearly, the actual returns on 10 percent annual savings would diminish over time, such that it would take decades to reduce the deficit to one percent of its current level. Forty-three years to be exact. For those who remember Zeno’s paradox, it would actually be impossible to ever completely eliminate the deficit under the Thune plan.

And that, of course, would only happen if the legislation produced by the committee was passed and signed into law.

“My bill would cut and cap spending, reform the broken budget process, end the trust fund dishonesty, and create a new permanent joint Congressional committee tasked with continuously cutting the deficit without raising taxes,” reads Thune’s statement announcing his proposal. It would also establish a non-defense discretionary spending cap based on pre-Obama appropriations, end stimulus spending (though not stimulus tax cuts), make the federal budget a binding joint resolution and create a legislative line-item veto.

You can see Thune on Fox below:

Late update: A reader emails with specifics: “It’d actually take 100 years to reduce the deficit to $26 million — stipulating a $1 trillion deficit as the baseline.”

[Ed. Note: This post originally reported that, under Thune’s calculations, the deficit wouldn’t be eliminated for at least 10 years, when it would really be “more than 20.” Beutler then revised the post to reflect sources that told him it would be 43, as it reads above. Upon yet further review, he added a late update that another reader thinks it will be 100 years.]

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