Time to step up, Rep. Ryan

I’ve been following with interest the ongoing fight debate between Paul Krugman and, well, no one yet.  I hold all of you to a high standard, so I’m not going to recap the whole thing.  I’ll give you the broad strokes.

Rep. Paul Ryan put together a “Roadmap” for the budgetary future.  It’s won a lot of acclaim from some for at last being an actual policy document that attempts to outline a conservative vision of deficit reduction.  I will admit, I was initially impressed with its existence.  I can’t say I agree with it’s methodology.  For instance, I think the replacing of Medicare with vouchers that will slowly become inadequate to purchase insurance will only result in the same problems I cite here when countering Avik Roy’s similar proposal for Medicaid.  Rep. Ryan was also going to freeze all discretionary spending at 2009 levels until 2019.  That’s simply stunning.

But at least it put something down on the table.  That way we can start to debate.

Rep. Ryan even had the plan scored by the CBO.  And it brought the deficit down impressively.  Massively, in fact.

Yes, some noted problems with the plan.  For instance, Jonathan Chait said:

Begin with his proposed tax changes. Ryan would not only retain the Bush tax cuts for the highest earners, he would further lower the top tax rate to 25%. On top of that, he would repeal all taxes on corporate income, inherited estates, capital gains, and dividends. In other words, he would completely eliminate the most progressive elements of the tax code, and slash the next most progressive element. In their place he would impose a value-added tax, which would not bring in nearly enough revenue to replace the revenue lost from his tax cuts, but would fall much more heavily on the poor and middle class.

I remember thinking that if he could really balance the budget and massively cut taxes, then he must be some sort of genius.  But then, a number of other groups said you couldn’t lower taxes so much and still balance the budget.  The cuts (even those massive ones) weren’t enough.  Rep. Ryan responded:

The tax reforms proposed and the rates specified were designed to maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP, based on consultation with the Treasury Department and tax experts. If needed, adjustments can be easily made to the specified rates to hit the revenue targets and maximize economic growth. While minor tweaks can be made, it is clear that we simply cannot chase our unsustainable growth in spending with ever-higher levels of taxes. The purpose of the Roadmap is to get spending in line with revenue – not the other way around.

In other words, “we’ve got it covered.”  The exact quote was, “tax reforms would raise slightly less revenue than claimed“.

That was in March.  It’s been a busy year.

But this week, Rep. Ryan has been all over the news.  There was this mavericky profile in the Washington Post on Monday.  Ezra Klein had a long interview with him that made him look super-wonky.

But today.. hoo-boy.

Paul Krugman opened up a whole case of whoop ass on Rep. Ryan.  Remember the tax cuts that would result in “slightly less revenue than claimed”?  Turned out to be $4 trillion over a decade.  For those keeping score that’s four, count ’em, four PPACA’s.  That’s… insane.  If you factor that in, it turns out that deficit in 2020 under the “roadmap” is not what the CBO claimed. It’s pretty much exactly where President Obama’s budget will get us.

Except that we will have those massive Medicare cuts.  Same to Medicaid.  And 2009 discretionary spending in 2019.  I was willing to at least listen to those kind of spending cuts when I thought it would help with the deficit.  But why would we consider them just to get the same deficit we would have without them?  How big are Rep. Ryan’s tax cuts to completely eat away the deficit savings?

The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.

I’m speechless.

It turns out that Rep. Ryan asked the CBO to score his plan as if revenue would be about the same as without the tax cuts.  He asked them to ignore the tax cuts.  He asked them to pretend the $4 trillion in lost revenue didn’t exist.

That’s not OK.  That’s cooking the books.

Paul Krugman gets sort of nasty.  So do a few others.  I try, really hard, not to do that here.  I will not question Rep. Ryan’s motives.  Nor will I pre-assume anything about his argument or answers to these issues. I hate when people do that.

But Rep. Ryan is a politican, and a pretty powerful one at that.  He has full access to the press and microphones. It’s time for him to step up.

You want to be a wonk?  Then you defend your plan.  Explain how you will account for the $4 trillion difference.  You don’t get to play with the big boys if you hem and haw and pretend that magically we will make up that money somewhere else.  That’s what politicians do.  And if he wants to be a politician, that’s fine, but then no special treatment from the press or people who know better.  You go back and play with the other politicians who have no idea what they are talking about.

I’m going to break my name calling rules just once here, because this is policy, and I take that seriously.  When you write a paper, or a blog, or a “roadmap”, you’re putting yourself out there.  I respect that.  But you have to be ready to defend your work.  If it gets attacked, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  Not everything is black and white, and some things are open to interpretation. But if someone makes a valid criticism of your work, you have only two honorable options.  You defend it, publicly for everyone to see, or you own up to your mistake.  Either one will do.  What you can’t do is run and hide, or pretend that you didn’t hear, or ignore the criticism and attack the criticizer.  If you do, then you’re not a serious player.

You’re a hack.

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