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Cutting PBS and the NEA won't do it

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Mitt Romney sat down with Fortune magazine for a pretty interesting interview, which was published today. It's worth your time, and I'll resist the temptation to go through every exchange in detail, but there's one part of the Q&A that seemed especially important.

Romney believes -- or at least wants you to believe -- that he and Paul Ryan can balance the budget while cutting taxes on the rich, increasing defense spending, and increasing Medicare spending, all without raising taxes on the middle class. Anyone with common sense and a calculator knows such a plan is silly, but Romney says he can pay for his multi-trillion-dollar plan through ending various tax deductions and cutting spending.

Which tax deductions? Romney and Ryan refuse to say -- the former governor told Fortune he'll "work with Congress to identify which of the alternative methods we should apply to reduce deductions, benefits, and exemptions." In other words, maybe after voters elect him, Romney will tell voters what he'll do.

And what about the spending cuts? Asked for specifics, Romney told Fortune:

"[T]here are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs -- the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf."

In Grown-Up Land, destroying the Affordable Care Act would make the deficit significantly worse, not better -- Obamacare saves the country hundreds of billions of dollars -- making this part of the plan particularly incoherent.

But what about the other specifics? Sam Stein explained, "The government spends $444 million a year on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the parent organization of PBS); Amtrak received $1.56 billion in federal funding in 2010, with $1.3 billion in stimulus funds; while the National Endowment of the Arts lists the current level of federal funding at approximately $146 million."

Looking at a deficit of a trillion dollars, the Republican has a plan to make the budget shortfall significantly worse, then make it ever-so-slightly "better" by nibbling around the edges.

In fairness, I should note that Romney also intends to save a little more by eliminating health care for the poor through Medicaid, and through some vague plan involving shrinking federal programs through attrition.

But even if Romney implemented all of these efforts exactly as he's promising now, would they eliminate the deficit while he also cuts taxes and increases defense and entitlement spending? Of course not.

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously isn't paying close enough attention. For all his talk about having the courage to make tough calls, Romney's still taking the coward's way out.