For the past few days, conservative commentators have been salivating over Paul Ryan’s recently released “Path to Prosperity” budget. But I don’t quite get it. Sure, Ryan’s budget is preferable to the alternative, but that’s kind of like saying being hit by a car is preferable to being hit by a truck. One method is a lot more painful than the other, but you still end up dead in the end. And one would really rather not be run over at all. This budget demonstrates how insane our politics have become.
I think what’s most offensive about the Ryan budget is Ryan’s marketing method. They’re all running around saying, “Our budget cuts $5 trillion.” That’s not exactly true. The Ryan budget spends $5 trillion less than Obama’s budget over a 10 year period, but even that isn’t a true cut. Federal spending still grows under the Ryan budget, just not as quickly as it does under the Obama budget. Under the Ryan plan, federal spending will grow from $3.624 trillion in 2012 to $4.888 trillion in 2022, which is a 35% increase. If nothing else, this budget makes clear that no one in Washington actually takes the federal spending problem seriously. Obama proposes increasing spending by 53% over the next 10 years, and the Republican come-back is to propose “only” increasing it by 35% and $1.2 trillion. And then they run around telling everyone how they’re slashing budgets and making “hard” choices. Just how dumb do they think we are?
And that’s not even the best part. You’ll recall last year all the fuss about balancing the budget and show-downs over federal debt limits. Turns out Paul Ryan didn’t get the message. For 2012, his “budget” anticipates adding $1.180 trillion to the federal debt and also plans on running several hundred billion dollars’ worth of additional debt every year for decades. Over the next 10 years, the Path to Prosperity adds $3.127 trillion to the federal debt. In fact, Ryan doesn’t even anticipate balancing the budget until about 2040. A budget that doesn’t even pretend to balance for at least another 20 years isn’t worthy of the name. If this is the Republican version of prosperity, forgive me if I take a pass.
Remember Social Security and Medicare, which even the Ryan budget admits are the largest drivers of federal spending? Turns out their problems aren’t actually that serious. Medicare is slated to go completely bankrupt by 2024, if not sooner. So, what does Ryan propose? A few tweaks to the program that would go into effect in… 2023! Just in time for the program to completely implode.
And what about Social Security? In his budget plan, Ryan says that “in the event that the Social Security program is not sustainable [Memo to Paul Ryan: IT’S NOT!], the President… must submit a plan for restoring balance to the fund.” Maybe if we’re lucky, the President will establish another blue ribbon commission to conveniently ignore and then blame Congress for not doing anything. If Paul Ryan were as bold and brave as the conservative intelligentsia would have us believe, he would have proposed an actual plan for reforming Social Security rather than punting to the White House.
In short, Ryan’s budget is a farce. It does not take seriously the fiscal challenges that confront this country and instead chooses to ignore those problems while claiming non-existent cuts in excess of $5 trillion. Even if this budget were to pass Congress and be signed by the President there is nothing in it to compel future Congresses to abide by it. There are no serious structural reforms of anything, and any reforms in the offing are 10 or 20 years down the road, at best. Also keeping in mind that whatever budget the Republicans propose will likely be watered down by the Democrats as it works its way through Congress, this budget’s weakness is striking. This budget isn’t a serious proposal and serves only to demonstrate that the Republicans learned nothing during their time in the political wilderness. If Paul Ryan is the party’s strongest advocate for responsible fiscal policy, that does not bode well for America’s future.