Great hypothetical from Dean Baker for how to think about the House Republican budget, as written by Paul Ryan:
Let’s imagine the equivalent on the opposite side. Suppose that we proposed to increase Social Security benefits for the bottom two income quintiles of retirees. Suppose that we also proposed increased spending on infrastructure, research and development, and education.
Suppose the left-wing Ryan budget wrote down that these spending increases would be offset by unspecified reductions in government waste. We then told the Congressional Budget Office to score it accordingly. Is this a good starting point for further discussion?
What’s more: Would anyone who read such a budget foolishly claim that it was “serious”? Of course not. It would immediately be seen for what it was: an attempt to raise spending on Democratic priorities using a fig leaf of phony deficit reduction to cover the expense. That’s exactly what appears to be happening with Paul Ryan, the House Republicans and taxes. Lots of specifics about where they’re going to cut taxes, lots of hand-waving about paying for it (via Scott Lemieux, who has more).
Meanwhile, there’s an argument about whether Barack Obama’s criticisms of the spending cuts Ryan’s budget would produce in the first 10 years are fair or not. The problem is that those cuts are unspecified within broad categories, allowing Ryan to say that any particular specific program would be protected. And, as far as that goes, fair enough — Ryan has never said that he’d cut equally across the board. On the other hand, as Ezra Klein points out, you can’t cut spending without, you know, cutting spending.
But as far as I can tell, the argument is a silly one. That’s because, as you should recall, Ryan’s budget — which is now the House Republican budget — entirely wipes out the federal government in the longer run. By 2050, assuming that military spending holds at current levels (and Ryan and especially Mitt Romney are against any cuts), there won’t be any room remaining within Ryan’s budget for anything other than Social Security and health-care entitlements. Zero. No FBI, no FEMA, no spending on veterans … nothing. Which makes the whole idea of fighting over what would happen in the first 10 years just a sideshow.
The point is that there’s simply nothing serious about Paul Ryan’s approach to budgeting. We have no way of knowing, from the documents that Ryan presents, whether he really wants to sneak in lots of massively unpopular things (raising middle class taxes by eliminating popular deductions, shutting down programs for veterans), or whether that’s all just for show and the real Ryan budget would explode the deficit. As Baker says about the Ryan budget: “[P]eople who believe in arithmetic” will “call it what it is: a piece of trash.”