In Thursday’s CNN/Telemundo Republican presidential debate-turned-cage-match, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Donald Trump how he would pay for his proposed tax cut and bring the federal budget into balance. Here’s how he responded:
We're going to make many cuts in business. We're getting rid of -- we're going to get rid of so many different things. Department of Education -- Common Core is out. We're going local. Have to go local. Environmental protection -- we waste all of this money. We're going to bring that back to the states. And we're going to have other … many things. We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again.
Blitzer was quick to point out that eliminating the Education Department and the Environmental Protection Agency in their entirety -- which Trump, if you look closely, does not actually seem to be proposing to do -- would only save $68 billion and $8 billion, respectively. And it remains a mystery as to which other organizations fall into the category of “many of the agencies” that Trump would cut.
Pressed on where else he would find spending reductions to eliminate the $500-billion-plus annual federal deficit, Trump fell back on an age-old trio of boogeymen:
Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. Waste, fraud and abuse. You look at what's happening with Social Security, you look -- look at what's happening with every agency -- waste, fraud and abuse. We will cut so much, your head will spin.
Heads may spin even before that trying to make the numbers add up: As Michael Tanner noted in the National Review about Trump’s promise to cut wasteful spending in a previous debate, the Government Accountability office has identified about $125 billion in improper payments annually. That’s far short of the number Trump would need to hit to balance the budget by eliminating unnecessary and fraudulent spending.