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We Would Be Better Off without the Republican Party Watch: Paul Ryan Edition

James Harney http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3458:

Even some critics of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan have praised his “courage” and his willingness to make “hard choices” to address looming deficits. But, upon closer inspection, Chairman Ryan’s widely reported claim that his plan produces $1.6 trillion in deficit reduction proves illusory. In fact, the numbers in his plan show that his budget produces just $155 billion in real deficit reduction over ten years.... That’s because his budget cuts are offset by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts that would go disproportionately to those at the top. In essence, at least for the next decade, this plan is far less a blueprint for addressing deficits and far more a proposal to redistribute large amounts of resources from those at the bottom to those at the top....

About $1.3 trillion of the claimed $5.8 trillion reduction in spending, however, comes simply from taking credit for spending less in future years for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a result of the already-planned drawdown in the number of troops fighting in those countries. While this accurately reflects the difference between spending for the wars in Ryan’s plan and spending for the wars projected in CBO’s baseline, it does not represent savings or deficit reduction resulting from any change in policy proposed by Ryan....

CBO follows the baseline rules established in the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 (as subsequently modified). For taxes and mandatory spending, the baseline projections generally assume that there will be no changes in current laws governing taxes and mandatory programs. But for discretionary spending... assuming current law does not make sense.... [B]aseline rules require CBO to assume that for each account and activity, Congress will provide the same amount of funding in each year the baseline projections cover as it provided in the most recently enacted appropriation bills (adjusted for inflation). This generally serves as an adequate proxy.... There is, however, one large anomaly — funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that causes the current baseline projections to vary significantly from what it will cost to continue current policies. Following the baseline rules, CBO projects that in every year from 2012 through 2021, appropriations for the wars will remain at the current annual funding level.... Yet a drawdown in troops is already well underway in Iraq and is planned for Afghanistan.... Chairman Ryan’s budget merely plugs in the CBO’s estimate of the war costs under the President’s proposal, without changing them.

This difference of about $1.05 trillion between the war costs in the Ryan budget and those in the CBO baseline thus does not represent new savings that result from Ryan’s budget proposals. Yet Ryan counts this $1.05 trillion, plus the $250 billion reduction in interest costs that such a $1.05 trillion spending reduction would produce, as $1.3 trillion in spending cuts and deficit reduction....

Ryan himself said in a February interview that savings in the Obama budget that come from the troop drawdown should not be considered real savings or deficit reduction. Ryan commented that the Obama budget showed savings of $1.1 trillion because the costs under the proposed withdrawal were compared to a baseline that assumed “they’re going to be in Afghanistan and Iraq at current levels for ten years,” and called these “phantom savings.” Ryan was correct to term these “phantom savings.” And if the phantom savings are not counted as real savings, the amount of spending cuts that Ryan’s proposals produce is $1.3 trillion less than Ryan claims...

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