Brent Batten: Mack’s gone, but his plan lives on in D.C.Naples Daily News
By Brett Batten
February 17, 2013
Connie Mack is gone from Congress but not forgotten.
Not entirely, anyway.
The Mack Penny Plan, the blueprint the former Southwest Florida representative put forward to balance the federal budget, was featured prominently Tuesday night in Sen. Rand Paul’s tea party response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Only he omitted mention of Mack, who quit the U.S. House to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat, a challenge that was ultimately unsuccessful.
But Mack confirms that the Penny Plan Paul was talking about is in fact the same plan that once carried his name.
“He and I have worked on this together. He came on pretty early (as a co-sponsor) and was a vocal supporter of the plan.”
Paul began by saying that the country needs an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced budget.
Anticipating the argument that the budget can’t be balanced, Paul continued. “If you cut just one penny from each dollar we currently spend, the budget would balance within six or seven years. The Penny Plan has been crafted into a bill that millions of conservatives across the country support.”
Under the Penny Plan, spending would be cut 1 percent per year for six years. Then spending would be capped at 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, a level just below where spending was in years before 2009, when spending jumped to more than 24 percent of GDP, where it has remained.
Unlike other budget cutting measures bandied about Washington, the Penny Plan would involve actual cuts to spending, not budgetary sleight of hand that discusses cuts in the rate of growth but still results in spending increases.
For instance, in his State of the Union address, Obama said the government is halfway toward its 10-year goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction.
The national debt stood at $13 trillion in 2010. If deficits are reduced by $4 trillion over 10 years shouldn’t that mean by 2020 the debt will be about $9 trillion? Instead, according to government projections, it will be over $20 trillion.
“It’s hard to imagine people can with a straight face say those are real cuts,” Mack said.
The Penny Plan never got far while Mack was in Congress, even in a House controlled by Republicans. Paul Ryan, head of the House Budget Committee, had his own plan for reducing spending and balancing the budget. “Nothing else saw the light of day,” Mack said.
The Ryan plan wouldn’t result in a balanced budget until about 2038. Mack said his plan, now Rand Paul’s plan, would do it in less than seven years.
A 1 percent cut might seem small, but Mack knows the challenge of getting politicians to agree to any reduction is great. “It comes down to priorities. A few people are going to have to give up their pet projects,” he said.
A big challenge will be addressing Social Security and Medicare, which see an ever-increasing number of baby boomers becoming eligible for promised benefits each year.
Congress would have the flexibility to make the 1 percent cut as it sees fit under the Penny Plan. Only if it fails to act would cuts occur across the board.
For instance, Congress could choose to raise the retirement age to cut the costs of Social Security and Medicare, he said.
House rules limit the amount of lobbying a former member can do for at least a year after leaving office. Mack, who has been doing commentary for CNN and consulting in South America, said he is in the process of forming an advocacy group to take on the challenge.
“The plan itself is sound and strong but it comes down to getting enough public support behind it to push the hand of leadership in Congress,” he said.
Support so far comes from dozens of House co-sponsors, about 11 Senate co-sponsors, the conservative group Freedom Works and Lanny Davis, an aide to former President Bill Clinton.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Penny Plan, with or without Mack’s name attached, gaining approval in capital as divided as Washington, D.C.
That’s a shame, says Mack. “It’s so simple everyone can understand it. Everyone’s had to do it in their homes and in their businesses.”