Paul Ryan’s “New” Budget Is Just Red Meat for the GOP Base

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) unveiled his latest budget plan Tuesday, and those who hoped it might spark bipartisan dialogue about fixing the nation’s debt problem will be disappointed.

While packaging itself as an ambitious effort to balance the budget within ten years, it actually recycles the Republican platform of 2012, on which the congressman ran as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate. The Ryan budget will spend $4.6 trillion less between now and 2023 by:

  • Transforming Medicare into a federally subsidized “premium support” (voucher) plan starting in 2024, with a range of insurance options for seniors, including traditional Medicare.
  • Turning Medicaid, food stamps and other so-called welfare programs into block grant plans in which each state decides how to divvy up federal money.
  • Repealing Obamacare while preserving the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare spending that are estimated to accrue under health care reform.
  • Simplifying the tax code by removing certain exemptions and deductions while creating only two tax brackets—at 10% and 25%.
  • Approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Some of these ideas are worth exploring, at least as pilot programs (like block grants to states with strong federal guidelines, as occurs with education spending). But so much of this is internally contradictory and based more on tired old Republican bromides than on fresh new thinking.

Rep. Paul Ryan Speaksat George W.Bush Insitute conference in New York. Photo: Howard R. Gold/The Independent Agenda

Rep. Paul Ryan speaks at George W.Bush Institute conference in New York last April. Photo: Howard R. Gold/The Independent Agenda

For instance, Romney and Ryan vociferously attacked the $716 billion in Medicare spending reductions during the campaign, yet this new plan would take it out of beneficiaries themselves instead of doctors and hospitals.

Simplifying the tax code is a good idea, but the Ryan budget would use it as a stealth tax cut. Rather than generating extra revenue to reduce the deficit, as President Obama would, the Ryan plan would “starve the beast” by giving everyone huge tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts that were enshrined permanently in the “fiscal cliff” deal.

Presumably that’s how Ryan will get the U.S. economy to grow “faster than spending” and balance the budget by 2023. He said explicitly that implies GDP growth higher than 3.4% a year, well above the average for the last 50 years.

Here we are again in the 4% growth fantasyland of the George W. Bush Institute and the 20 million jobs magically created by tax cuts that Romney’s economists unsuccessfully tried to foist on voters in 2012.

And then, of course, we have the Keystone pipeline, whose merits can be debated, but which even Ryan himself estimates will create a mere 20,000 direct jobs.

Finally, there’s repealing Obamacare. Never mind that the Supreme Court has declared it constitutional and that House Republicans have voted to repeal it more than 30 times, with no luck. Like it or not, it’s the law of the land, so get over it.

What’s behind all this? As part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, House conservatives got Speaker John Boehner to  agree to balance the budget within a decade rather than the 20-30 years in which the previous Ryan budget did. Hence  all the smoke and mirrors and red meat for the Republican base in this latest proposal.

Truth is, this is not a real budget proposal, but a partisan political document, much like the one I expect Democrats to unveil in coming weeks. Neither, I think, will advance the conversation one whit.

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