Paul Ryan’s Bad-Deal Budget

To help end the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt proposed “the New Deal.” Now Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, has a different idea: call it “the Terrible Deal.”

Ryan released his budget today and, unsurprisingly, it’s a blueprint for a very different country—one in which the rich get trillions in tax cuts and the most vulnerable see their safety net cut away. “If you’re very wealthy and believe struggling families have it too easy, you’re going to love what the House GOP has put together,” notes Steve Benen.

In Ryan’s vision for the country, programs that are vital to education, infrastructure, health care and retirement security get slashed or eliminated. Most notably, Ryan continues (in a slightly watered-down form) his push to replace the guarantee of Medicare with vouchers for private coverage. The effect of this over the long term is a massive shift of costs to seniors as their health care vouchers give them less coverage over time.

The Medicaid program, which provides a guarantee of coverage to the very poorest, comes in for even bigger cuts. As Slate’s Matt Yglesias says, what Ryan’s plan does is “make Medicaid beneficiaries get by with less health care.” The suggestion, coming from Ryan, that what he’s trying to do is “strengthen” Medicaid is, as Yglesias points out, insulting nonsense.

Taken together, Ryan’s plans to replace Medicare, slash Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act would leave the number of uninsured people “much higher” with reduced access to care generally.

Health care programs aren’t the only ones that face cuts. Everything from food stamps to highway funding gets targeted, in ways that impose austerity on an economy still recovering from recession. (And, just as a bonus, the modest regulations on Wall Street set by the recent financial reform bill are swept away.)

Ezra Klein, looking at the Ryan budget, says that Ryan expects the poorest to bear nearly all of the burden:

Ryan prides himself on making tough choices. But where such choices need to be made for politically powerful constituencies…Ryan punts. When such choices need to be made for programs that the poor depend on, however, Ryan is considerably more specific, and considerably more willing to inflict real budgetary pain on current beneficiaries.

What do we get in exchange for all of those cuts? Well, the wealthy and large corporations get around $3 trillion in tax cuts, although Ryan claims his tax plan will actually be revenue-neutral because of changes to tax deductions he isn’t interested in specifying, and because of growth projections based on the classic economic theory of “because I said so.”

And worth noting is that at least one expert has looked at the number and determined that Ryan’s proposal would, contrary to his zealous declarations, actually increase the deficit.

Washington, D.C. is kind of a funny town, where conventional wisdom is set by the preferences of a small political and media elite rather than by reality. And in Washington D.C., Ryan gets credit for being “serious,” “brave” and “an expert” for the way his budgets flatter the ideology of the conventional-wisdom-setters. But it takes no bravery or seriousness to pander to wealthy campaign donors and highly-paid pundits by telling them how much everyone else needs to sacrifice.

Jonathan Bernstein puts it even more concisely: “in budgetary terms, there’s no reason to take this thing seriously, or to give Ryan any points for courage.”

Politics is about priorities, as I often say. Rep. Ryan has, with this budget, made it clear what his priorities are: low taxes on the very wealthy, the demolition of the Medicare guarantee, and a government that does almost nothing to help people get ahead. Those are his values and he’s entitled to them—but the thousands of people we talk to every week aren’t exactly clamoring for less security for themselves and lower taxes for the rich.

Photo of Rep. Paul Ryan by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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