Is Paul Ryan a Reformer or a Radical?

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has electrified the race by choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. In the last day, the two have drawn big, excited crowds and have gotten rave reviews from conservative talking heads in the media.

Democrats were delighted, too, fanning out across the Sunday talk shows to tell anyone who would listen about Ryan’s plans to gut Medicare and Medicaid. in their view.

Ryan was eloquent in his first speech as vice-presidential nominee. “We are on an unsustainable path that is robbing America of our freedom and security. It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “Real solutions can be delivered. But, it will take leadership. And the courage to tell you the truth.”

So, there you have it: the Romney/Ryan ticket has reframed the election as a choice, not entirely a referendum on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy, effectively reversing a year of the Romney campaign’s efforts.

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

But what are they asking voters to choose? Ryan has laid out his plan in some detail. It would:

  • Cut federal spending by $5.8 trillion over ten years, nearly a trillion of that in discretionary domestic spending—the social safety net– which runs about $500 billion a year.
  • Keep military spending growing at the rate of inflation.
  • Eventually turn Medicare into a voucher plan in which “seniors can use [a set amount from the government] to buy private insurance or a government plan on an insurance exchange,” wrote Liz Goodwin of Yahoo News. That amount would rise along with inflation, but insurers could theoretically raise prices as much as they want, which would mean higher out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients. It would, however, grandfather in (no pun intended) everyone over 55 now, who can stick to the old plan. The Congressional Budget Office says “most elderly people would pay more for their health care.”
  • Turn Medicaid—which serves the elderly and the poor—into a block grant system in which the federal government gives states certain amounts of money, most likely much less than is projected now, to fund the program.
  • Eliminate some deductions and tax credits and institute two tax rates—at 10% and 25%. He would slash corporate tax rates to 25% from the current 35%. He would eliminate—that’s right, eliminate—taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest, and estates.

The only way Ryan might raise revenues is by dumping popular tax deductions, and like his running mate, he hasn’t specified how he’d do it.

Ryan explicitly rejected a more moderate approach when he joined two other Republicans and four Democrats on the Simpson-Bowles commission to vote against the final version of that commission’s report, effectively consigning its findings to legislative purgatory.

Why? Because Simpson-Bowles listed explicit ways to raise revenues, including some taxes, along with its very substantial cuts in spending–and Ryan didn’t think it went far enough on Medicare.

So, when Ryan had a real chance to build a consensus and get the most substantive recommendations on the US debt problem to the floor of Congress, he punted in favor of his own plan, which did take some controversial stands but is more in line with Tea Party/Grover Norquist orthodoxy. In that sense, he dodged the tough choices he always accuses other people of avoiding.

The Romney campaign has rhetorically distanced itself from the Ryan plan, but no matter: the two are now joined at the hip on a path that guts rather than fixes the social programs both Democratic and Republican presidents and Congresses have built over the last 80 years. If that isn’t radical, I don’t know what is.




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6 Responses to Is Paul Ryan a Reformer or a Radical?

  1. Independent Doug August 14, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    I am tired of the we/they, Democrat/Republican, 2 party dysfuntional system that we have. It isn’t working any more. The constituents that are to be represented are being drowned out by the PAC money and the large wealthy donors. They spread their propaganda to confuse and redirect the ignorant voter, much the same way that Hitler did. The politicians, when directed, vote the way the party or major donors want them to and the American voter has to wait 4 or 6 years to vote them out, if that is possible. I say get rid of all of them and have a national vote every week where the actual voter makes the decision, not an elected Official. Figure out how to make it secure via computer voting. I bet we can do a better job of it and if a mistake is made, we can correct it quickly.

    • HowardRGold August 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

      Independent Doug, thanks for your comment, but next time let\’s avoid the Hitler analogy. As bad as we think our politicians are, there\’s really no comparison.

  2. John Wright August 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I skimmed Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity 2013” and came away astonished he is taken seriously.

    On page 19, he has “the first job of government is to secure the safety and liberty of its citizens from threats at home and abroad.”

    I thought government’s role is to “provide for the common welfare,” not to make sure an American has safety and liberty ANYWHERE in the world.

    As far as actual spending cuts, on page 34, he mentions $30 billion savings over ten years by reducing agricultural programs, but doesn’t name any actual cuts, stating the agricultural committee is responsible.

    C’mon, Paul, has it occurred to you that “Ethanol subsidy,” or “sugar price supports,” or “government subsidized flood/crop insurance” are good candidates?

    And he talks about the complex tax code on page 60: saying “A code with high rates and lots of loopholes
    benefits those who can afford the best lawyers and lobbyists in Washington” as a reason to simplify the tax code into two brackets.

    He wants two brackets of 10% and 25% and a corporate tax rate of 25%.

    He does not say how he is going to get all the groups currently enjoying their tax deductions to agree to this change.

    For example, how will he get the housing industry to give up the mortgage interest deduction?

    And how does he prevent industry groups from pushing their tax rates effectively lower by securing special tax credits for favored groups (in energy for example)?

    To me Ryan seems a slow learner as he has spent almost all his adult life in politics and the last 12 years in the House.

    Ryan should be familiar with the Russell Long statement of tax reform: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree!”

    Surely he must realize how difficult it is to make any changes to any government favors once they are granted.

    In my cynicism, I suggest Ryan realizes his “Path to Prosperity 2013” isn’t a path, but a political puff piece.

    • HowardRGold August 21, 2012 at 5:17 am #

      John: Thank you for your close reading of Paul Ryan\’s statements and his unwillingness to be specific about what he would cut. I guess your point is beneath the rhetoric and veneer of making \”tough choices,\” he\’s just another politician…

  3. John Wright August 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    I always enjoy hearing politicians say how easy it is to make cuts. Of course, the problem is at the receiving end of every government expenditure is someone quite happy to receive the funds, and they, and associated politicians, will fight to preserve their cash flowing from the government.

    I remember NY Democratic Senator Schumer fighting to preserve the 15% carried interest tax rate for Wall Street and Florida Republican Marco Rubio voting to preserve the sugar subsidies for some wealthy sugar growers in Florida.

    Of course, both had reasons why it was important to preserve the status quo.

    And the “cut Medicare and Social Security” crowd don’t seem to realize that 46% of Americans die with an estate of 10K or less and the median net wealth of Americans, in any ethnic group, won’t yield much of a retirement income over a few thousand dollars a year, as the wealth is mainly in their houses.

    The bottom line is Social Security and Medicare are absolutely vital to probably 80% of Americans in retirement.

    So Paul Ryan’s reform of Social Security, by cutting benefits, should harm the futures of many Americans.

    I’ve read some of the late economist Mancur Olson, who suggested focused special interests are always able to extract special favors from governments. He went so far as to suggest that Japan and Germany did well after WWII in part because their institutions, and associated special interest favors, were destroyed by the war.

    I work as an engineer and I see continual progress in technology which is encouraging as it could lead to better lives for many of the world.

    But I am thoroughly discouraged by our politicians as they blindly support US foreign military adventures, with little concern for the blowback, and do little to rein in Wall Street speculation.

    If politicians can’t agree to end the special-interest-sponsored Cuban embargo, in place since 1962, how is Paul Ryan going to get them to end even a majority of special interest tax favors/credits in the tax code?

    I suggest Paul Ryan is either a very cynical politician or is a rather dim bulb who didn’t learn much in his twelve years in Congress.

    The “cynical politician” seems more likely.


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