Political Animal


August 14, 2012 11:33 AM Stockman Savages Ryan

By Ed Kilgore

If there’s anyone in recent political history who is a definite precursor to Paul Ryan, it has to be David Stockman, another bright young congress-critter who combined conservative ideological totems (in his case, supply-side economics) with green-eyeshade budget credentials, and became the living symbol of GOP efforts to take on the New Deal/Great Society programs. Stockman left his safe congressional seat to become Ronald Reagan’s OMB director, and after savage internal and external battles with Republicans and Democrats alike, quit the job in 1985 and penned the definitive book about the Reagan Revolution and its contradictions, The Triumph of Politics.

Stockman only occasionally bursts into public view these days, but has now done so with a vengeance in a New York Times op-ed column blasting Ryan’s budget plan as a complete fraud. Though using Ryan’s Veep selection as his point of departure and the Ryan Budget as a major talking point, Stockman is generally indicting his own former party and the conservative movement that once praised him in terms identical to its current love-fest with Ryan:

Thirty years of Republican apostasy — a once grand party’s embrace of the welfare state, the warfare state and the Wall Street-coddling bailout state — have crippled the engines of capitalism and buried us in debt. Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to “job creators” (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.

This is pretty much the same Stockman who once denounced the 1981 tax bill he oversaw as a feeding frenzy among hogs, and who in his book all but called Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger a traitor for bamboozling Reagan in order to grossly inflate the Pentagon budget. And his ultimate loyalties to the Creditor Class are abundantly clear; he’s even more obsessed than Ryan with hard money nostrums.

But he certainly knows his budget numbers, and isn’t afraid to challenge Ryan’s deficit-cutting street cred:

Mr. Ryan showed his conservative mettle in 2008 when he folded like a lawn chair on the auto bailout and the Wall Street bailout. But the greater hypocrisy is his phony “plan” to solve the entitlements mess by deferring changes to social insurance by at least a decade.
A true agenda to reform the welfare state would require a sweeping, income-based eligibility test, which would reduce or eliminate social insurance benefits for millions of affluent retirees. Without it, there is no math that can avoid giant tax increases or vast new borrowing. Yet the supposedly courageous Ryan plan would not cut one dime over the next decade from the $1.3 trillion-per-year cost of Social Security and Medicare.
Instead, it shreds the measly means-tested safety net for the vulnerable: the roughly $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families and the $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Shifting more Medicaid costs to the states will be mere make-believe if federal financing is drastically cut.
Likewise, hacking away at the roughly $400 billion domestic discretionary budget (what’s left of the federal budget after defense, Social Security, health and safety-net spending and interest on the national debt) will yield only a rounding error’s worth of savings after popular programs (which Republicans heartily favor) like cancer research, national parks, veterans’ benefits, farm aid, highway subsidies, education grants and small-business loans are accommodated.

This is a large and angry revival of Stockman’s constant theme in The Triumph of Politics that Republicans were only interested in cutting federal spending or tax subsides that benefitted someone other than their own constituencies. And as in the 1980s, he’s more than happy to go after the supply-side faith he once shared as well:

The Ryan Plan boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — i.e. the superwealthy — to 25 percent and paying for it with an as-yet-undisclosed plan to broaden the tax base. Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like, not to mention low rates on capital gains and dividends. The crony capitalists of K Street already own more than enough Republican votes to stop that train before it leaves the station.

Some of this thunder and lightning may reflect Stockman’s residual bitterness from the Reagan years, when he was discarded for having the temerity to “talk out of school” about GOP gutlessness and treachery in a famous interview with William Greider and then in his book. But his op-ed is a useful primer on the sleight-of-hand being utilized by Ryan and other contemporary conservatives who want to blow up the deficit with tax cuts before finding the most mendacious and cruel ways to reduce selected elements of the federal budget. Stockman is and should be angry that Ryan’s getting away with posing as his successor.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • mad_nVT on August 14, 2012 11:56 AM:

    Maybe it's time for a Kilgore review of the record of Saint Reagan----

    - the massive tax cuts
    - the massive deficits
    - the massive tax hikes (!!)
    - the continuing massive deficits
    - the massive Reagan debts that we of course still live with.

  • c u n d gulag on August 14, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Well, it's nice that the angry old pot is calling the completely sociopathic new kettle, 'black.'

    At times, I have a lot of admiration for people like John Dean and David Stockman.

    Unfortunately, it's after the 'time' when they could have changed history if only they'd taken action, or spoken-up, sooner.

    But, better late, than never, I guess...

  • stormskies on August 14, 2012 12:18 PM:

    Romney and his buffoon's are relying on most of the corporate media to keep in place the ongoing con job that they are perpetuating because that what the corporate hired pundits are hired to do.

    Yet here is a refreshing example of a few in the corporate media that are not playing along.

    CNN's Soledad O'Brien Pins Truth On Romney's Spokeswoman

    By karoli

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    Paul Krugman's take on Romney's choice of Paul Ryan is, I think, spot on. He thinks Romney is relying on the politerati to just hunker down in their false equivalence bunker and treat Ryan as some kind of Very Legitimate Serious Guy.

    What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.

    With that in mind, I give CNN's Soledad O'Brien some serious props for staying right on the truth and not letting Romney spokesperson Barbara Comstock do her best impression of Reince Preibus and most of the Republican Party. This nonsense lie that $700 billion has somehow been "stolen" from Medicare played in 2010 when no one really knew what the Affordable Care Act would do. Two years later, senior citizens aren't "losing" anything. They've actually saved lots of money just on the prescription benefit itself.

    Of course, that didn't stop Comstock from trying. And when O'Brien wouldn't let her go there, she fell back on the old "death panel" routine, hoping that would somehow leave viewers all shivery and afraid. It's pretty pathetic. Here's the actual exchange:

    O'BRIEN: The budget, as I put it out earlier, was passed. That $700 billion was -- what Republicans, virtually every Republican agreed to that twice, twice in 2011 and 2012. So to say that it's -- the money is being stolen I think is the word that you used, that has been debunked.

    COMSTOCK: That has taken -- that's taken --

    O'BRIEN: That's factually not true.

    COMSTOCK: No, that is taken from current seniors and our plan --

    O'BRIEN: It is not. It is not taken from current seniors. It is not affecting the benefits.

    COMSTOCK: Well, you have to look --

    O'BRIEN: I am telling you, it has been -- the CBO and others have done a breakdown of it. And as you know this, they're not cutting the benefits to the elderly. They are cutting the benefit in fact --

    COMSTOCK: We aren't, we aren't -- what about the 15-member board that can decide what procedure, whether my dad can get, you know, ablation again because he's 77.

    O'BRIEN: Let's go --

    COMSTOCK: And if this 15-member board decides that you can't get a treatment, that's how they plan on controlling the spending, is by having a 15-person on elected board decide what kind of treatment seniors can get.

    O'BRIEN: So you're conceding --

    COMSTOCK: We don't have 15-person board.

    O'BRIEN: You're conceding that the $715 billion is not stolen.

    COMSTOCK: No, that's -- they're -- whether cutting the $700 billion by having this 15-person --

    The value of this exchange is less in the facts and more an exposť of Republican strategy. As soon as Comstock was confronted with the fact that Republicans have not only agreed to the same cuts, but also that Rock Star Ryan blessed them, suddenly she had to fall back on the old, tired 'death panel' canard, long debunked.

    This was a rare "CNN forces the truth" moment, thanks to Soledad O'Brien. I'll bet they won't promote it on their home page, but she deserves recognition for actually acting like a journalist.

  • TCinLA on August 14, 2012 12:26 PM:

    I had long thought that Mr. Stockman had long since gone to his reward of being a "good Republican" and was helping to beautify America by pushing up daisies. However, this nice little bromide (for all the wrong reasons) against Ryan is useful. Anything thrown on Willard's wall that sticks is good.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Voters have to realize the ultimate consequence of a Rmoney/Ryan administration: After yet another massive tax break to the 1% results in no meaningful recovery and a huge spike in national debt, the administration will advocate the sale of most federally held assets (buildings, land, oil rights, etc. ad nauseaum) to the 1% who just received the tax break. This, of course, after they grant a tax holiday for the mountain of cash held off-shore.

    It will be the mother of all stings, perpetrated by the biggest con artists in the history of humanity and supported by millions of ignorant morons that inhabit this country.

  • jjm on August 14, 2012 1:33 PM:

    Stockman's been piping up a lot lately;and we are beginning to see more and more Reaganites piling on Ryan. Why? Because they seemed to like working in a functioning government, while Ryan & Co. are trying to execute the Koch Brothers utterly ridiculous 1980 plan to privatize all government functions for private profit : se http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/14/1119752/-Paul-Ryan-Using-Koch-Brothers-1980-s-Privatization-Plot :

    "Paul Ryan's Privatization Plan is the same Plan the Koch Brothers published in 1980, then again in 1983, from their propaganda-mill, CATO Institute. [...] As you will learn after reading this Diary, the Koch Brother's web of deceit in trying to Privatize America's Social Security has been being woven for 32 years. Paul Ryan and now Mitt Romney are trying to usher in the Koch Brother's 1980's Privatization Scheme."

  • Linkmeister on August 14, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Stockman's remedy, however ("A true agenda to reform the welfare state would require a sweeping, income-based eligibility test,") would turn SocSec and Medicare into programs for the "poor" in the minds of the 1% and their sycophants, thus would continue their status as targets for destruction.

  • Robert Waldmann on August 14, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Like Ryan "knows his budget numbers." Also like Ryan he lies about the budgetary impact of his proposals. The word "affluent" is vague, but no one honestly uses it to refer to a large fraction of the population (OK by world standards yes but the conventional meaning is family income well into 6 digits).

    Unless he has a private definition of the word "affluent" or "giant" the passage "reduce or eliminate social insurance benefits for millions of affluent retirees. Without it, there is no math that can avoid giant tax increases or vast new borrowing." is misleading. Social insurance benefits for the affluent (as the word is normally used) are not a huge amount of money compared to the whole social insurance budget (although huge compared to most amounts of money).

    Either Stockman advocates means tests which will deprive the middle class of social insurance or he is unwilling to propose anything which will make "giant tax increases or vast new borrowing."

    To be fair, he wrote that they would occur without his proposed reforms. He didn't say that they would not occur with his proposed reforms, which of course he knows they would. Hence I wrote "misleading" not "false"

    Yes Stockman is much more honest than the average Republican politician. He is also much smarter than the average hammer.

  • yellowdog on August 15, 2012 3:09 AM:

    Stockman's comments are important and timely. They point up some key problems with Ryan's approach to Medicare:

    1 - His agenda is 'bold' as the pundits say -- yet it is boldness built on numbers that don't add up and assumptions that cannot be attained in the real world (like a lot of economists' models). It thus can't be a serious starting point for debate.

    2 - The country's Medicare and debt problems are serious in the long term -- far more serious than we would like to believe--and they require realistic, serious, bold, credible, hard-headed responses--from liberals as well as conservatives. Ryan's plan meets the bold test, but fails the rest. It does not help us solve real problems.

    3 - Ryan wraps his proposals in heavy ideology and he resists all compromise--with disdain, it seems. This makes real progress and real solutions in a situation of divided government impossible. In earlier days, when we reached trouble-points over Medicare and taxes, the political system worked reasonably well in hammering out differences eventually--in a messy way, for sure, but without harm to Medicare or the nation's economy. Ryan's hard-line, no-compromise position is essentially painting himself into a corner.

    Liberals damage the potential middle ground themselves by refusing to acknowledge the serious fiscal challenges that exist with respect to Medicare in the coming years. Paul Ryan's over-boldness should not call forth from liberals under-boldness on Medicare. If we believe in it, we have to fix it, not just forestall Ryan's misadventures.

  • politigal on August 15, 2012 11:07 AM:

    Stockman has the gravitas and personal history to back up his points, and he has my respect and gratitude for shining his bright light on the Ryan budget. Many seniors likely remember him from the Reagan years, and he has been honest and direct about the sham of Reagonomics.

    Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) was on MSNBC's Morning Joe program articulating with clarity the truth of the disasterous Ryan budget.
    Further-- Van Hollen detailed how President Obama has actually strenthened Medicare--
    he also presented for view a paper supporting this from Medicare fact-checkers.
    Link from The Hill:


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