Seeking to corner U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon on what she would cut from the federal budget, Chris Murphy suggested she would cut benefits for veterans in order to fund her tax cuts. Not true, says the McMahon campaign.

Murphy, a Democratic Congressman, is in a tight race against McMahon, a Republican former wrestling CEO, for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

McMahon’s six-point jobs plan recommends reducing federal spending by 1 percent each year, as well as cutting the middle class tax rate from 25 percent to 15 percent and extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone. Her plan does not recommend cutting services for veterans. In fact, it contains a provision aimed at helping employers understand the value of employing veterans.

But Murphy has taken to focusing on the unknowns in McMahon’s plan, specifically what she would cut. McMahon points to a Government Accountability Office report that her campaign says identifies $217 billion in overlapping programs. McMahon’s campaign says the report outlines 47 separate job training programs, 88 economic development programs, 82 teacher quality programs, and 56 financial literacy programs, and that she would cut $38.6 billion a year out of those programs over the next 10 years.

Todd Abrajano, McMahon’s spokesman, said Monday that most taxpayers would be upset to learn of the amount of duplicative spending in government.

“Why are we spending money to do things 30 to 40 times when we could just do it once?” he asked.

However, University of Connecticut Economist Fred Carstensen said in August that there is likely fat to trim in the federal government, but it’s likely harder to cut than they realize, because cuts always impact someone.

At a campaign event in Middletown today, Murphy said McMahon has got to get specific on just which of those programs would go, or veterans benefits would need to be on the table.

“Linda McMahon’s economic plan is a choose-your-own adventure novel because every day there’s something new to it. But let’s be honest if you want to balance the budget and give a new $4 trillion tax cut, you have to cut things like veterans’ funding,” Murphy said, adding, “I’m sure you’re going to call her and she’s going to say, ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t cut veterans funding,’ but at some point she has to tell us what she’s going to cut.”

Abrajano pointed to a recent campaign event at a Danbury veterans hall, where U.S. Sen. John McCain endorsed McMahon. McMahon stated there that veterans benefits need to be protected since veterans “risked their lives and limbs” for the country.

“I mean everything [Murphy] says is ridiculous,” Abrajano said. “. . . The bottom line is Linda McMahon will not cut benefits for veterans.”

Murphy said it could be added to the growing list of things she has said she wouldn’t cut. McMahon has stated that she would not make cuts to defense spending, entitlement programs, and food stamps, he said.

“At some point, you know, Linda McMahon’s numbers have to explode in her face. There’s no way to give a $4 trillion tax cut and not start cutting programs like veterans,” Murphy said.

Abrajano said that even with the things McMahon has taken off the table for spending reductions, there’s still an enormous amount of spending to cut.

“There’s hundreds of billions of dollars that could be reduced because there’s so much overlap,” he said.

During their first debate Murphy accused McMahon of habitually avoiding specifics. After she answered a question regarding how she would shore up the Social Security program, he said she’d offered “a minute and 30 seconds of ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’d do.’”

But during that debate Murphy also agreed to cut 1 percent from the federal government’s discretionary spending, though the campaign has not been clear about exactly how much of the budget is considered “discretionary.” On Monday, Murphy accepted the support of Veterans and Military Families for Progress and pledged to keep fighting for veterans services. But it’s not clear exactly how Murphy would arrive at a 1 percent cut either.

During the first televised debate Murphy did give some examples of federal spending he feels we could do without.

“I’ve opposed duplicative programs at the Department of Defense that would build engine programs that we don’t need, costing the government $3 billion. I’ve opposed subsidies for agri-businesses in the Midwest that cost this government over $8 billion a year that we don’t need. I’ve opposed giving away tax breaks to the oil industry and the defense industry to outsourcers that they simply don’t need. So I’ve been very willing to stand up and oppose wasteful spending,” Murphy said. “But I do believe we need a combination of both additional revenue to the federal government from those who have done very well in this economy and some serious spending cuts.”

What Murphy didn’t say was that the cuts he rattled off amount to less than 1 percent of the federal budget and Connecticut whether benefits from, or is not impacted in any way by, things such as subsidies for agri-business in the Midwest.

A proposal to eliminate $2 billion in subsidies to the five biggest oil companies failed twice in the Senate, and Congress has largely ignored President Barack Obama’s call to eliminate about $4 billion in oil subsidies.

Obama’s budget allocates about $3.552 trillion in spending. Murphy’s specifics on things he’d be willing to cut during the debate fall far short of one percent.

On Tuesday his campaign emailed a list of more spending reductions Murphy supports. Ben Marter, his spokesman, said it wasn’t an exhaustive list. Marter said Murphy’s support of bringing home American troops from Afghanistan would save around $2.2 billion a week. Most of the rest of the list involves closing various tax loopholes. For instance, Murphy supports ending:

– A provision that allows corporate jet owners to write off their planes two years earlier than airliners, saving around $2.2 billion over 10 years;

– A tax rebate for rum available in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, saving around $100 million a year;

– A loophole used by Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines, which also is incorporated in Panama and avoids paying some taxes by treating revenue as foreign sourced;

– A tax deduction for corporate meals and entertainment costs, saving around $10 billion a year;

– A tax deduction for corporations allowing them to deduct punitive damage awards, saving $319 million over a decade;

– Various tax breaks for timber companies that would total $1.6 billion over 5 years, and;

– Subsidies to coal companies, totalling $2.6 billion over 10 years.

Asked for examples of what McMahon would cut, Abrajano declined to specify.

Vincent Moscardelli, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said McMahon’s reluctance to comment on specific programmatic cuts likely stems from a desire to pick up independent and Democratic voters.

“As a Republican running in Connecticut, Linda McMahon faces an uphill battle,” Moscardelli said. “The programs that in all likelihood she would target would be programs near and dear to Democratic constituencies. As a candidate who needs crossover votes to win, she has nothing to gain from antagonizing Democrats still on the fence.”

Moscardelli said there’s some historical precedence for waiting until after the election to flesh out the details of a plan. In 1994, Newt Gingrich and other Republicans successfully made the ideological argument for smaller government and waited until after November to describe what that would look like, he said.

If there’s enough anxiety about a perception of out-of-control government spending among voters, a general call for cutting spending can be effective, Moscardelli said.

“The problem is the devil is in the details, which is why Chris Murphy will keep trying to force her hand,” Moscardelli said.