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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Republican presidential hopefuls have offered their own plans for tax cuts at the same time that they are promising to balance the budget. Here's Mitt Romney yesterday, for example, campaigning in Chandler, Arizona.

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MITT ROMNEY: We're going to lower our spending. We're going to preserve our long-term viability by fixing our entitlements. And that way, we will restore the American dream. And that's exactly what I'll get done.

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INSKEEP: But a report out today warns that is not what Romney's economic proposals would actually get done. An independent budget watchdog warns that Romney's approach would likely worsen the nation's debt problem. And it comes to the same conclusion about plans by his fellow Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Republicans have had a field day attacking President Obama for the federal government's trillion-dollar deficits and promising things will be different when the GOP is in charge.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: The main problem we have is the government is too big and the debt is too big and you have to cut spending, so you have to get...

RICK SANTORUM: We're going to cut programs. We're going to spend - under my administration, we're going to spend less money every year, every year, year to year to year.

NEWT GINGRICH: My goal is to shrink the government to fit the revenue, not to raise the revenue to catch up with the government. And I'd be happy...

HORSLEY: But while the candidates talk a good game about stemming the tide of red ink, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says their proposals don't necessarily add up. Committee President Maya Macguineas and her colleagues have been studying the candidates' ideas, and they're out today with a preliminary assessment.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: So far, what we have is four candidates who are all serious about cutting spending, but are all also very serious about cutting taxes. And in most cases, they would actually cut taxes by more than their spending cuts, which would make the deficit situation overall worse.

HORSLEY: The lone exception is Ron Paul, whose plans would actually shrink the debt by more than $2 trillion dollars over the next decade.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Department of Education? Gone. Interior? Energy? HUD? Commerce? Gone. Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls.

MACGUINEAS: He tops the group in terms of the kinds of spending cuts he's talking about at over $7 trillion in cuts, which is by far the greatest amount of specific cuts that anybody has offered.

HORSLEY: Specific is the operative word, here. Macguineas and the budget watchdogs give more credit to candidates who spell out specific cuts than those who offer vague targets, like this one from Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: As president, I pledge to reduce spending to 20 percent of the GDP by the end of my first term.

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MACGUINEAS: Governor Romney puts forth cuts in spending and cuts in taxes. Neither of them kind of drastically change the budget. But overall, the effects of those tax cuts would outweigh the spending cuts, from what he's offered so far.

HORSLEY: The Committee estimates Romney's proposals would add $250 billion to the debt over the next decade. That's nothing, though, compared to the red ink that would be spilled by Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Santorum wants to cut personal income taxes, while preserving big deductions and tripling the tax break for children. So far, he's offered little to balance those cuts, except $5 trillion in unspecified spending reductions.

MACGUINEAS: This is the big wildcard for Senator Santorum so far. He has said he would cut $5 trillion. That would have a significant effect on the overall fiscal effects of his plan. But he has yet to specify where that $5 trillion would come from.

HORSLEY: The Committee also dings Gingrich for his optional 15 percent flat tax. Because everyone would have the option of paying less, government revenues would take a big hit.

MACGUINEAS: Who is going to be the person who says, oh, I'll take the system where I would pay more? So, in the end, it might be a more desirable tax system for a number of other reasons, but it usually ends up losing revenues - and significant revenues, in this case.

HORSLEY: The Committee estimates over 10 years, the Gingrich plan would add $7 trillion to the federal debt. Macguineas says this report is not intended to be the last word on the GOP proposals, but to illustrate the challenge of backing up tough fiscal talk and to encourage the candidates to get specific.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: We'll take a close look at all the candidates' plans throughout this election year. You can hear them here on MORNING EDITION, and you can follow us online on Facebook and on Twitter. We're @MORNINGEDITION and @nprinskeep.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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