Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget chief, tried to twist the knife in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, issuing a wide-ranging condemnation of President Obama in the midst of the Republicans’ debt-limit victory.
Here’s a key sentence: The president, he writes, “still hasn't put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and his evasiveness is emblematic of the party he leads.”
Nearly every word of that applies to Ryan and his party, only arguably more so. The budget Ryan wrote and the GOP House passed would add $6 trillion to the debt over the next decade, despite its truly punitive cuts to domestic spending. Why? Because while Ryan would reform entitlement programs, one essential element in budget reform, he would also cut taxes steeply, exactly the opposite of what the budget math requires. The result is a plan that doesn’t balance the budget until 2030s, which Ryan euphemistically calls “[putting] the federal budget on the path to balance.”
Though it was still far too small, the most reasonable budget outline proposed throughout all the months of fiscal wrangling was the general approach Obama finally endorsed near the end of the acrimony — a mixture of entitlement reforms and tax reforms that raise revenue. That’s not because the president wrote it down in minute detail — he didn’t, as the right continually points out. Details matter, but the president’s proposal was the only one to get the big picture anywhere close to right. Obama’s compromise approach was also the most popular, according to poll after poll after poll. It reflected not only the reality of the divided government Americans installed in Washington in the last election, but also the nature of the American political system itself; the Founders could have stamped “compromise” on the Constitution in large, red letters, if it weren’t already obvious that its basic construction required the people’s representatives to do so.
The reason no one ever wrote down or scored Obama’s compromise plan is that House Republican negotiators dismissed it before it could get close to that stage. Their objections reflected the giant, gaping mistake in the Ryan plan: The notion that we can reach fiscal balance while accommodating GOP orthodoxy on taxes. And that was sadly emblematic of the party Ryan leads.