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March 12, 2013 10:58 AM Ryan’s Latest Bait-and-Switch

By Ed Kilgore

So Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal is out today, and there are no particular surprises to those familiar with earlier iterations. Yes, Ryan was forced by Tea Party pressure to produce a document projecting a balanced budget within ten years, but the task of coming up with those savings was cushioned by his ability to incorporate the new revenues from the “fiscal cliff” deal and the appropriation of Obama “Medicare cuts” he and Mitt Romney attacked regularly during the 2012 presidential campaign. Plus Ryan has not lost his talent for assuming and estimating his way out of any arithmetical challenge to his budgeting.

From a big picture point of view, the new budget’s very similar to prior iterations. It still hammers low-income programs (and defense discretionary spending generally) and lets the Pentagon state. It still has fuzzy-math treatment of revenues, with ill-defined “tax reform” measures paying for rate “simplification,” which probably means high-end tax rate cuts. It still leaves Social Security alone (almost certainly to Ryan’s private chagrin); still voucherizes Medicare for those under 55; still turns Medicaid and SNAP into block grants with radically reduced federal funding.

There’s nothing new, either, about Ryan’s central bait-and-switch tactic: shriek about debt and its threat to the economy, but focus on redistribution of resources with no real net impact of debts-and-deficits. Ezra Klein, who is kinder to Ryan than most progressive analysts, really nails him on this front. After quoting a turgid paragraph from Ryan’s budget document about the terrible economy and the burdens it’s placed on families, Ezra has this to say:

Ryan’s budget isn’t about most of these challenges. It won’t create jobs this year, and will likely cost jobs in the years to come by putting the economy on a steep austerity ramp. There’s no housing policy for the millions of families in foreclosure and no way to read Ryan’s budget without assuming massive cuts to student-loans programs. That may mean fewer families watching student loans pile up, but only because they didn’t get any in the first place.
As for medical costs, fully 59 percent of Ryan’s savings come from new cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare or other health-care programs — and that omits the $800 billion in Medicare cuts he keeps from Obamacare. So there will be less health-care bureaucracy, sure, but also less health care. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that cuts on the order of what Ryan is proposing will mean around 35 million people lose their health-care coverage.

The real shocker is Ryan isn’t proposing these things to reduce deficits and debt, either. He considers them good and important ends in themselves:

Ryan’s budget is, at its core, a set of very distinct, very ideological, and, over the course of Ryan’s career, very consistent ideas about how to reform the relationship between the federal government and its citizens. Ryan was pushing these ideas in the late-’90s and early-2000s, too, when deficits were far less of a threat. The only item he’s dropped is Social Security privatization — but it was, remember, in the 2010 iteration of his budget….
The problem is that these ideas are not, on their own, popular. In fact, they’re deeply unpopular, and considered quite radical. That’s why Newt Gingrich rejected Ryan’s initial budget as “right-wing social engineering” — it is, in a very serious sense, an effort to use policy reform re-engineer the relationship individuals have with their governments, their communities, and their families. But presented on their own, Ryan’s plans scare people.
What Ryan has found is that the way they’ll get a hearing is if they’re presented as necessary, prudent measures to forestall an even more dramatic debt crisis.

So any debate over the Ryan budget ought to be about his actual proposals and real aims, not the packaging. The reality is that he’d be promoting the same policies even if the federal budget were in balance. His plan would just have more tax cuts. Let’s don’t let the wrangling over deficit numbers obscure that simple fact.

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  • Josef K on March 12, 2013 11:10 AM:

    Once again, and it can't be stated often enough, I have no clue why my home state saw fit to elect this clod to high office. His selection for the VP slot in the last election is perfectly understandable given the nature of the modern GOP's past selections (Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, etc.), but I used to pride myself on Wisconsin voter's more intelligible behavior.

    The Badger State is still doing penance for Joe McCarthy. It'll have to do another 200 years of the same before the country can forgive it for inflicting Ryan on the rest of us.

    As for his "budget", it'll likely join the Starr Report as the butt of toilet paper jokes, provided people refer to it at all.

  • c u n d gulag on March 12, 2013 11:12 AM:

    GOP POV:
    Yes!
    YES!!!
    We must start to cut now.
    NOW!!!

    What do you mean, "Why?"

    WHY, BECAUSE WE (might) HAVE TO CUT LATER - THAT'S WHY!!!

    If we start drowning the babies, and starving the seniors, now, it'll all be over much quicker, you'll see!

    And after we ride this out together, and the right people get punished, while the proper people are rewarded, WE'LL be much more than solvent, of course!

    What do you mean, "What about 'me?'"
    I'm talking about ME!!!
    Not, YOU!
    Who the hell gives a flying feck about 'you'?!?!

  • sjw on March 12, 2013 11:25 AM:

    Please remind me what was the point of Obama having Ryan over for lunch the other day?

  • Peter C on March 12, 2013 11:49 AM:

    Hi Ed,

    "It still hammers low-income programs (and defense discretionary spending generally) and lets the Pentagon state."

    I think this sentence needs some editing. Do you mean 'skate' and not 'state'? Did you perhaps mean non-defense discretionary spending?

  • Peter C on March 12, 2013 11:51 AM:

    @sjw,

    Perhaps they needed a food-taster?

  • Mimikatz on March 12, 2013 12:08 PM:

    If Ryan had his way, the federal government would be absolutely unable to do anything to counter global warming or mitigate the damage it will do over the coming decades. That Paul Ryan would leave his fellow citizens in such straitened circumstances in the face of disasters that scientists almost universally predict are coming to serve an ideology he acquired in adolescence is staggering. But of course there is something in it for Paul Ryan. Remember he was the Koch Brothers' recommendation to Mitt Romney.

  • Joe Friday on March 12, 2013 12:26 PM:

    The boy-genius budget expert assumes repealing Obamacare will lower the deficit by $1.8 TRILLION, but the independent non-partisan Congressional Budget Office states repeal of Obamacare will INCREASE the deficit.

    As Bugs would say, "What a maroon !".

  • PTate in MN on March 12, 2013 2:17 PM:

    We need to refer to this as Ryan's "slash domestic spending" budget. Or maybe we could call it the "hurt the poor" budget. Or maybe just the "Lying Ryan's Kill Bill."

    He uses the threat of deficits (he calls this his "deficit reduction budget") to slash domestic programs, knowing that many low-information people will fearfully accept that we need to make hard choices (at least those that affect the poor and vulnerable) because we "just can't afford" all this domestic spending. He referred to his budget as returning "the federal government to its proper sphere of activity."" which is Republicanese for "destroy the New Deal."

    I was appalled at this, too: ""Mr. Ryan framed these proposals in moral terms, saying his budget "recognizes that people do not find happiness in grim isolation or by government fiat. They find it through friendship, through free, vibrant exchange with the people around them. They find it through achievement. They find it in their families and neighborhoods, their places of worship and youth groups. They find it in a healthy mix of self-fulfillment and belonging." Which, quite apart from the disconnect between what his budget will actually do and this meaningless sentimentality, is an amazing comment. Does he really believe that slashing government funding for the poor is a moral choice? That volunteers will pick up the slack, and that we will all be happier and better off with that arrangement? I realize that a Koch stooge like Ryan is shameless, but I am still stunned by the depth of his cynicism.

    Get a decent progressive tax code back in place, and none of this would be an issue. The only thing really hurting Americans today are the "strangle the beast" austerity policies pursued by Republicans.

  • iyoumeweus on March 12, 2013 2:47 PM:

    SACRIFICE LEADERSHIP AND BALANCE
    I am 75 years old. I know the so called ‘chain COL’ and these austerity programs will cost my wife and me some hardship, my wife, even more after I am gone. We are not wiling tol accept our reduced status since we know ‘sacrifice is for suckers’. Our elected seem to ‘love’ sacrifice so let us join together and ask them to make a few once shown the way perhaps we would be more willing. Here are a few suggestions our elected and appointed government officials could sacrifice as follows:
    1. Have their own cost of living adjustments also calculated based upon the chain COL
    2. Raise the amount of ‘out of pocket’ payments for their own pensions and healthcare, thereby reducing the tax payers share
    3. Either allow the government to negotiate directly with Medicare D providers or pay the same amount for their meds as Medicare recipients pay
    4. Let them reduce their pay by the same amount Federal Worker’s pay is to be reduced
    5. Once an elected official leaves office, all of their unused campaign contributions will go into a For the People Fund
    Please add your own.

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