Political Animal


September 10, 2012 9:47 AM The Two Magic Asterisks

By Ed Kilgore

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Thomas Edsall does a good job of drilling down through the rhetoric and top-line numbers of the Ryan Budget and showing that its deficit-reduction claims depend on historically unprecedented reductions in non-defense discretionary spending—the portions of the domestic budget that fall outside the big entitlement programs, where Ryan’s planned decimation of benefits for those living in poverty are reasonably specific, if rarely discussed.

To show the slippery nature of Ryan’s approach to non-defense discretionary spending, Edsall notes that the Romney campaign’s claims that programs affecting veterans would be protected simply makes the already massive pressure on everything else—education, environmental protection, transportation, food safety, etc.—even more intense. But so long as specificity is limited to the budget categories allegedly not being hammered, the GOP can continue to get away with the fiction that its plans somehow radically reduce spending while not affecting anything popular.

When you recall there is an even larger shell-game going on in the revenue side of the ledger in the Romney-Ryan budget proposals—rates come down, taxation on capital and on estates are slashed even more, yet revenues will rise because of unspecified cuts in tax expenditures that will mathematically have to come from those benefitting the poor and the middle-class—it begins to become obvious that the whole house of cards depends on misdirection and magic. The only things really clear in the GOP budget calculus is that top end and investment tax rates will drop; Medicaid and other elements of the social safety net for the poor will be shredded and/or dumped on the states; Medicare will be restructured in a way that virtually guarantees exposure of seniors to much higher out-of-pocket costs; and then either deficits rise dramatically or portions of the budget that involve much of what government actually does other than fighting wars and mailing checks will take a real dive beyond anything that has been explicitly discussed outside the Tea Party Movement.

It will be interesting to see if Democrats (especially Barack Obama in the presidential debates) are capable of penetrating the fog and challenging the magic and making GOP plans more transparent. If they are, then the already-unpopular Ryan Budget which a united Republican government could be expected to move to implement quickly via reconciliation might become toxic.

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.


  • Bo on September 10, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Magic asterisks and magic underwear will not be a winning combination in November.

  • c u n d gulag on September 10, 2012 10:10 AM:

    If I were a Democratic strategist, I'd start calling it "The Romney/Ryan, 'We Gotta Make Room, Kids - Grandma's Moving In'" budget.

  • Diane Rodriguez on September 10, 2012 10:24 AM:

    Counterpunching the constant lying of the Romney/Ryan campaign is a necessary drain on Democratic resources. It probably won't sway undecided voters, but it's imperative to keep Obama voters committed.

    I still think the voter suppression campaign of the GOP is the most dangerous problem, even more so than the incessant drumbeat of lies. Many resources should be targeted to youth and people of color, especially Hispanics.

    Melissa Harris-Perry had a spot on college age voters. She used a recent college graduate as her reporter. In person interviews showed that the enthusiasm for voting in general isn't high and poor where voter ID laws were in effect.

  • Danp on September 10, 2012 10:25 AM:

    But Paul Ryan thinks Congress should work out where the cuts come from. What a cop-out. What lack of leadership.

  • bluestatedon on September 10, 2012 10:34 AM:

    "It will be interesting to see if Democrats (especially Barack Obama in the presidential debates) are capable of penetrating the fog..."

    My political scientist brother has been gnashing his teeth for several months now about the Dems' apparent disinterest in addressing this aspect of the Ryan "Plan." It's truly mind-boggling, considering how savage the cuts would have to be to things like environmental protection, food and drug regulations, the National Park Service, education, and infrastructure improvements. Thanks to our thoroughly degenerate, corrupt, and above all lazy mainstream media, the average American voter is completely clueless about the nature of the cuts. Democrats from the White House to the Senate to the House to the governors across the country have to be making the case—if they think that David Gregory or David Brooks or Cokie Roberts or any of the orcs and trolls on Fox are going to utter one pointed question in Ryan's direction about this, they're living in a fantasyland.

  • rea on September 10, 2012 11:37 AM:

    On the plus side, there won't be any money in the budget to prosecute bank robbers, so maybe eliminating benefits for the poor won't be so important.

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  • bluestatedon on September 10, 2012 12:03 PM:

    "It probably won't sway undecided voters,..."

    I'm generally extremely cynical about so-called "undecided voters," but in this instance I'm not sure I agree that publicizing the true nature of the Ryan Plan would have no effect. I'd bet that a large percentage of the undecideds like having clean food and water, safe drugs and medicines, love the National Parks, and see the value in having safe roads and bridges.

  • Joe Friday on September 10, 2012 12:39 PM:

    This is starting to remind me of when Bullwinkle would say to Rocky, "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat !".

  • T2 on September 10, 2012 12:46 PM:

    I'm convinced that the "debates" will end up in typical territory. Romney/Ryan will play fast and loose with facts, hide real policy and generally bull sh*t their way through it, the moderators (Candy Crowley for christ sake) will let them get away with it. Obama/Biden will try to make their case with facts and actions taken, and all of it will be lumped together the next day as a "tie". Biden will probably blurt out something that will dominate the next news cycle, effectively covering up a real discussion about the vapid responses of Ryan.... Those on the Right will say Romney won and proved Obama has been a terrible president, and the Left will say Romney/Ryan presented absolutely no policy positions and grossly distorted a variety of things Obama has done and said. The Media will say "both sides do it" and declare it a Draw.

  • yellowdog on September 11, 2012 2:11 AM:

    The Edsall piece is one of the most important of the entire campaign.

    Per T2 - I wonder if Candy Crowley has read it?? Perhaps it is time to work the refs as hard as the other side does. Get Crowley's attention...

    Hey, Candy: Ask some serious, skeptical questions in the debate, OK? Start with the Edsall piece--and don't let them off the hook.

    Gwen Ifill set a regrettably low standard as moderator in 2008. It would be a great public service if informed journalists actually asked meaningful questions and called out the nonsense once in a while. Come on. I know you can do it.