MR. ROMNEY: Well, good. I’m glad you raised that. And it’s a -- it’s a critical issue. I think it’s not just an economic issue. I think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation. And they’re going to be paying the interest and the principle all their lives. And the amount of debt we’re adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.So how do we deal with it? Well, mathematically there are -- there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy because if more people work in a growing economy they’re paying taxes and you can get the job done that way.The presidents would -- president would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth and you could never quite get the job done. I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time.What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test -- if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. “Obamacare” is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.PRESIDENT OBAMA: I like it.MR. ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. (Laughter.) So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to -- I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one. [...]
Now, we can talk about whether or not raising taxes is a good idea (and if so, on whom they should be raised and why), and we can talk about the rhetoric of debates and how little the promises made in debates compare to the reality of how a president may govern in office, etc. But what I want to talk about here is what I perceive as a fundamental difference in philosophy not just between Republicans and Democrats, but between people who are generally conservative and those who are generally liberal, and that is this: just because a program is a good idea, something needed or appreciated by many, important in its own right, and so forth does not mean that the federal government should provide or subsidize it: in fact, it may be highly irresponsible and obnoxious to our founding principles of liberty for the federal government to make any such attempt.
The federal funding of PBS is a case in point. True, from what I've been able to gather online (and someone can correct me if there's better info out there) PBS only gets about 15 to 17% of its annual budget from federal funds. Cutting federal funding of PBS would not mean the end of PBS; I have a feeling that some of the celebrities who have appeared on Sesame Street alone over the years could be persuaded to make up that amount from their private fortunes (and get a tax break in the process: a win-win!). Cutting federal funding of PBS would also not do very much to lower our national debt, but that's where I think this debate can get a little odd: is it not worth doing anything unless that thing in itself will have a huge solo impact on debt reduction?
The larger question is this one: why, in the Internet age, are American taxpayers still footing even a tiny bit of the bill for a public broadcasting service which still includes radio and television as two of its primary broadcasting media? Do we--that is, does the federal government through confiscatory taxation--really have an important public purpose in doing so?
I haven't studied the Catholic political idea of subsidiarity as much as I'd like, but I do know that a central notion of it is the idea that things should be taken care of as much as possible on the smallest level of government, not the largest one. It would be inefficient and possibly even unjust to expect small towns or rural areas to plan and pay for the sections of the nearest interstate highway, but isn't it also inefficient and possibly unjust to expect Americans to pay more in federal taxes for various types of projects and services that could be better handled by the local community, by the town or city, or by the state instead of the whole country?
If there's no real, compelling reason for the federal government to raise taxes to support Big Bird, then let the federal government end its relationship with PBS and let either other levels of government or private charities take over the fiscal responsibility. The impact of doing that not for one tiny bit of federal funding, but anywhere the federal government is paying for what ought to be paid for by states, local governments, individuals, charitable institutions, etc. would be to create a thousand points of flight from the creeping socialism that starts out as a well-intentioned program, and ends up just one more burden on the backs of American taxpayers.
(Again, apologies for the weird paragraph spacing. In the template the paragraphs look single-spaced, but when I publish they come out double-spaced. If I try to fix it all the paragraphs get squished together into one long paragraph.)