If there’s one thing the battle over Paul Ryan’s budget underscores, it’s that the term “fiscal hawk” had basically lost all meaning in Washington. Ryan had previously been granted the presumption that he’s a fiscal hawk, simply because he kept making grave and ominous noises about the deficit, never mind whether his solutions would actually do anything about it.
The current Ryan proposal seems to be changing that.
Case in point: Even the right-wing Club for Growth has now come out against it. In a statement, the Club bashed Ryan’s plan for doing away with the defense cuts that were mandated by the failure of the deficit supercommittee:
Despite containing several important reforms and pro-growth policies, the Ryan Budget falls short in two critical respects. First, it does not balance for decades. Secondly, it violates the Budget Control Act by waiving the sequester. By waiving the automatic spending cuts required under the Budget Control Act, this budget is asking Americans to trust future Congresses to do the hard work later. It is hard to have confidence that our long-term fiscal challenges will be met responsibly when the same Congress that passed the Budget Control Act wants to ignore it less than one year later. On balance, the Ryan Budget is a disappointment for fiscal conservatives.
Obviously Dems and liberals have major disagreements with the Club for Growth. The Club says our fiscal problems can be solved only through spending cuts and economic growth. By contrast, Democrats, like many independent experts, believe the only solution is a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes on the wealthy.
But on this point, the Club is being consistent. Without saying so directly, the Club is implicitly arguing that any self-proclaimed fiscal hawk who takes defense cuts off the table — particularly those that Repubicans previously agreed to as part of the legislation creating the supercommittee — is basically a fraud. On this point, there’s broad agreement across the spectrum; the view is shared by more consistent fiscal conservatives, most Democrats, and the various bipartisan commissions that have looked at the problem.
As the Post editorial board put it today, Ryan’s call for an increase in defense spending, combined with his goal of reducing overall spending to less than 4 percent of GDP, is wildly unrealistic: “there would be essentially nothing left for the rest of government — nothing for education, for highways, for veterans, for low-income families, for the FBI.” And Ryan’s plan would increase the deficit.
There seems to be growing agreement on all sides that Ryan isn’t really a fiscal hawk, after all. Maybe the upside of all this is that it will prompt a discussion of what the term “fiscal hawk” should actually mean.