There’s no one quite like Paul Ryan out there. All of his budgetary bluff and bluster, which he fails to back up with actual numbers and actual choices, while simultaneously insisting that his proposals be recognized as courageous and unusually serious — no one else dares attempt such a thing.
The latest: Via TPM, Ryan went on the weekend shows and, when pressed, claimed it’s not his job to say which tax deductions he wants to end in order to pay for lower rates under his tax reform proposal:
[T]hat’s what the Ways and Means Committee is supposed to do. That’s not the job of the Budget Committee. What we’re saying is we want to do this in the light of day. Not in some backroom deal. We want to have hearings in the Ways and Means Committee that Chairman Dave Camp has already started this work, to say what tax benefits should go, which ones are the ones where Washington is picking winners and losers, so we get to a cleaner flatter tax code.
Typically, even on the surface this makes no sense. It’s not as if some tax breaks give advantages (“picking winners and losers”) and others don’t, so that you can go through and only eliminate the purely neutral ones.
The bigger point here is that Ryan is offering a highly idiosyncratic version of the division of Congressional labor. He’s right about one thing: Normally, it’s reasonable that Ways and Means fill in the details of tax legislation, and that Budget only give broad outlines of general goals. But when it comes to cutting tax rates, Ryan is not proposing broad outlines. He’s dictating two very specific tax rates, 10% and 25%.
So Ryan wants it both ways: He is proposing specific cuts in tax rates, in order to be greeted as serious and courageous about deficit reduction. But he is not explaining how he would pay for them, and he won’t list any of the large chunks of government that would have to be shut down to make his proposal work, which shows that ... he’s not at all serious and courageous about deficit reduction.
Overall, Ryan’s excuse won’t wash. Ryan says he wants Republicans to flesh out his fiscal proposals in “the light of day.” But that’s exactly the opposite of what he’s doing. Either Ryan is hiding very unpopular tax changes that his proposals would require in real life (ending the mortgage interest deduction and the child tax credit, for example), or he’s hiding the fact that his only real policy goal is a massive tax cut, mostly for wealthy people. There might be some appropriate words for this, but neither “courageous” nor “serious” would seem to apply.
Or, as Paul Krugman mockingly responded: “Give that man an award for fiscal responsibility!”