Paul Ryan in Wonderland: Chapter 6: Having wandered back into writing about U.S. politics for the past eighteen months or so, I sometime wonder how the full-time Washington correspondents, the lifers, do it: cover the same old junk year after year. The key to career longevity and job satisfaction, I suppose, is to buy into the notion, assiduously promoted by the politicians and their flacks, that what they are doing is serious. Budgets, national security, energy policy, health policy—these things matter….
Sorry folks. After watching Representative Paul Ryan launch his much-anticipated budget for the fiscal year 2014, I can’t keep up the pretense. The plan is a joke… and nobody should pay much attention to it, except as another exhibit in the indictment of latter-day Republicanism. Ryan’s numbers don’t add up. His proposals—cutting domestic programs, converting Medicare to a voucher program, returning Medicaid to the states, reducing the top rate of income tax to twenty-five per cent—were roundly rejected by the voters just five months ago. And the philosophy his plan is based upon—trickle-down economics combined with an unbridled hostility toward government programs designed to correct market failures—is tattered and shop worn….
[I]t’s a rehashed version of the budget he put out twelve months ago, which itself was a retread of the budget he issued the year before that, which was based on his 2010 plan. In fact, he’s been trotting out this pablum for six years now…. About the only argument you can make for Ryan’s budgets (or roadmaps, or pathways) is that they aren’t budgets at all: they are political manifestos….
In a more just world, Ryan and his visionary shtick would have been jeered off the stage after last year’s Presidential campaign, when, apart from ensuring that Mitt Romney didn’t face any blowback from the right at the Convention in Tampa, his presence added virtually nothing to the G.O.P. ticket, and, arguably, handicapped it. Almost immediately after Tampa, he was dispatched, Dan Quayle style, to secondary television markets, where he was placed under strict instructions not to bring up anything controversial, like his plans to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. (He did have the gall to join Romney in criticizing the Obama Administration for planning to cut seven hundred billion dollars from the Medicare budget over the next decade.)…
I can’t let a few things pass without comment. Ryan’s proposal to reduce the top rate of income tax to twenty five per cent would be a huge giveaway to the rich. How big? We can get a reasonable estimate by looking at Ryan’s 2012 budget, which Bob Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, aptly described as “Robin Hood in reverse—on steroids.” According to the Center’s analysis, people earning more than a million dollars a year would each gain, on average, $264,970….
Ryan is proposing austerity. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, he described the spending cuts he is proposing as modest…. But we know for sure that spending on entitlements is going to rise substantially. As interest rates return to more normal levels, the cost of servicing the national debt is likely to increase, too. And Ryan is calling for the Pentagon budget to be increased by five hundred billion dollars. Put all these things together and they add up to one thing: big cuts in unprotected programs, particularly those that help the poor.
But in terms of sheer political cynicism, it’s hard to beat Ryan’s attitude towards Obamacare. On the one hand, he wants to repeal large parts of it, including the insurance exchanges, and the subsidies for middle income families. But in seeking to balance the budget over ten years, his plan retains the Medicare tax increases on high earners that Obamacare introduced, and the seven hundred billion dollars in Medicare savings—yes, the very savings that Ryan lambasted during the Presidential campaign…