Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is more a preacher than a policymaker. He’s not convincing as either.
The blueprint the House Budget Committee chairman released this week prophesizes that “intergenerational theft” accelerated by the Obama administration will trigger “the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer.”
Can he get an amen?
From the Republican-led House, he certainly will. But he won’t get one from the Democratic-led Senate or from the American people, who rejected Rep. Ryan’s apocalyptic austerity when they reelected President Barack Obama. Rep. Ryan’s stated goal of saving the safety net and protecting the most vulnerable is perverse because his budget would shred the safety net and imposes new suffering on the most vulnerable.
For health care, he would relegate the poor who receive Medicaid to the tender mercies of state legislatures — consider that Florida didn’t jump to provide medical care to a million residents — and the elderly on Medicare to the charitable impulses of insurance companies.
His budget does not explain how any of that would work. He also does not explain how he would cut taxes on the wealthy — an idea recycled from his previous budgets — without gutting middle-class tax breaks. Again ignoring the last election, and the fact Mr. Obama will be in the White House until 2017, Rep. Ryan’s budget assumes that Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Ryan’s combination of fudge and fantasy lets him claim the “new” budget’s one wow factor: It allegedly balances in a decade, a feat calculated to assuage critics who lambasted his previous efforts for their long, long glide path. In fact, his budget does significantly reduce the deficit. But it does so in large part because Rep. Ryan leaves untouched the $600 billion in tax increases approved in the fiscal cliff deal. In another irony, he counts the $700 billion-plus in Obamacare “cuts” to Medicare he and Mitt Romney campaigned against.
Between tax increases, previous spending cuts and the sequester cuts, Congress and the White House actually have bumbled toward deficit reduction. A fair, effective budget document would make more sensible cuts but also impose new taxes, which the Sentate’s budget plan does. The Senate’s plan also resists the mindless impulse to jerk the budget into balance; swift Ryan-style spending cuts would stymie the recovery.
Rational deficit reduction is necessary. Rep. Ryan’s outline disappoints again because a new approach might have forced Democrats and President Obama to get serious about entitlement reform. Mr. Obama has reiterated his willingness to further means-test Medicare and use a Social Security cost-of-living formula that rises more slowly. But that’s a tough sell for Democrats, who now can blow off Rep. Ryan’s rehash. Whereas Rep. Ryan’s fantasy heaven is endless austerity, Democrats’ unattainable paradise is untouched entitlements.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board