Prominent opinion writers have spent the last few days fawning over Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would essentially abolish Medicare and Medicaid while lowering taxes on top earners, and many of them have deployed a litany of superlatives usually reserved for costumed superheroes. Commentators like David Brooks and Jacob Weisberg have described Ryan’s plan as “brave,” and “bold,” and the word “courageous” has been ubiquitous.
But the closer people look at Ryan’s plan, the clearer it becomes that the plan isn’t all that brave. Let’s take stock of all the recent revelations about it.
Ryan’s plan included a laughably implausible unemployment analysis from Heritage predicting it would bring unemployment down to 4 percent by 2015 and 2.8 percent by 2012 — an analysis Heritage then quitely retracted by attempting to disappear it from the internet. Ryan’s plan claims to save money while repealing the Affordable Care Act, even though the CBO has said repealing the ACA will increase the deficit. Ryan implied that his plan was supported by President Bill Clinton’s former OMB Director Alice Rivlin, even though it isn’t. It cuts taxes on top earners, when the easiest way to reduce the deficit is to let the Bush tax cuts expire.
Ryan’s misleading claims aren’t the only thing that isn’t particularly brave about his plan. After accusing Democrats of “raiding” Medicare with the Affordable Care Act, Ryan spares the elderly voters who supported Republicans in 2010 by making sure only he guts medical care for future seniors (he still calls it “saving Medicare,” however). And as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted, 2.9 trillion in Ryan’s budget comes from cuts in programs focused on low-income Americans. It doesn’t touch defense spending.
In other words, it focuses on cuts to programs that benefit those most likely to vote Democratic, while preserving programs that serve those more likely to vote Republican.Rewarding your constituencies while punishing the other side’s is how partisan politics usually works, but there’s nothing particularly brave about it.
Ryan himself said during the rollout that his plan isn’t so much a budget as a “cause.” As Steve Benen wrote yesterday, the cause here is destroying the modern welfare state so that rich people have to pay less in taxes. The only reason so many people think Ryan’s plan is “brave” is because they agree with this cause.
When we call a person brave, what we usually mean is that his or her “bravery” is being employed towards an end we agree with. In this case, those who are hailing Ryan’s proposal as brave are doing so because they agree with its goal, which — no matter how many times people insist otherwise — is not deficit reduction. It’s destroying the social safety net. It just so happens that’s a cause a lot of wealthy people with a disproportionate influence on our political discourse happen to believe in. So they think it’s brave, even if the numbers are phony and even if it disproportionately punishes the poor. But there’s nothing at all brave about it.