April 2012, Week 1


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Mon, 2 Apr 2012 01:40:11 -0400
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The Paul Ryan Rorschach Test
By Dean Baker
March 26, 2012

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan did a great
public service when he released his budget last week. By
throwing a piece of total garbage on the table and
pretending it is a real budget plan, he allowed us to
see who in Washington is serious about the budget and
who just says things that will push their agenda.

It is easy to see that Ryan himself could not possibly
be serious about the document he put out as "The Path to
Prosperity" [http://budget.house.gov/prosperity/]. The
Congressional Budget Office analysis of the plan [
http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43023], which was
prepared under Representative Ryan's direction, shows
that all categories of government spending outside of
health care and Social Security will shrink to 3.75
percent of GDP by 2050.

This 3.75 percent of GDP includes defense spending,
which is currently close to 4.0 percent of GDP, not
including the cost of the war in Afghanistan.
Representative Ryan said that he wants to keep defense
spending close to its current level. This means that we
have no money left to pay for the Justice Department,
the State Department, support for education, roads and
other infrastructure, the Park Service, the National
Institutes of Health and all the other things that we
expect the federal government to do. Essentially Paul
Ryan is an anarchist who is proposing to shut down the
federal government.

This cannot be a misrepresentation of Representative
Ryan's agenda. He put out essentially the same budget
last year at which point many people pointed out the
fact that he shrank most categories of government
spending to zero. If that was a mistake (albeit an
incredibly foolish one) he has now had a full year to
reflect on his error and redesign a budget to reflect
his real priorities.

Instead, he doubled down. In Representative Ryan's 2012
Roadmap there is no room for federal funding for all the
services that even conservatives expect the government
to provide. Does the Republican right now want to shut
down federal prisons and end border patrols as
Representative Ryan's budget implies?

This is also not a case of pulling out long-term
implications that have no serious meaning. It is a
common and silly practice in budget debates to project
out a trend for 75 or 100 years and show it leads to an
untenable situation when everyone knows the trend will
not continue for this long period.

However Representative Ryan cannot make this complaint.
He actually touts the budget surpluses that he is able
to generate in 2040 and 2050 by getting rid of most of
the government. His Roadmap budget document proudly
compares his budget surpluses with the growing debt
under the baseline path he attributes to President

Even if the Roadmap lays out an absurd budget path for
the years and decades ahead, Representative Ryan has
nonetheless done us a valuable service with his budget.
His proposal allows us to distinguish between people who
are serious about budget and economic policy and people
who obviously have a different agenda.

Those who pretend that the Ryan budget is a real
guidepost for thinking about the budget fall into the
latter category. Foremost in this group is likely to be
the various Peter Peterson funded groups - the Concord
Coalition, Come Back America and the Committee for a
Responsible Federal Budget - which last year awarded Mr.
Ryan a "Fiscy" based on the commitment to fiscal
responsibility in his 2011 budget plan. Of course many
other prominent actors in Washington's budget debate
also applauded the 2011 Ryan budget for its serious
approach to the country's fiscal problems.

These organizations and individuals may like Ryan's plan
to give more tax breaks to the rich by reducing the top
tax rate for both individuals and corporations to 25
percent. They may be impressed by his plans to dismantle
Medicare and Medicaid, and eventually Social Security.
Or they may be attracted by his proposal to eliminate
almost the entire federal government.

But the advocates of the Ryan plan are obviously not
thinking seriously about how to fashion a budget that
provides basic social insurance and sustains a 21st
century economy. By allowing the public to see clearly
who is serious about the budget and governmental
responsibilities and who is not, Representative Ryan has
performed a valuable public service.


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