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Ryan cannot be taken seriously

BY DANIEL TAIBLESON | MARCH 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Vaunted as being one of the most intellectually serious members of Congress, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is again in the spotlight with the release of his fiscal 2013 budget. Not only does the budget outline projected goals for the year 2013, it sets a number of spending benchmarks that span the next four decades.

In fact, if you were to take the plan's proponents collective word for it, you would have likely come to understand that the plan outlines a long list of policy priorities that will curb medical cost inflation, bring the budget into balance, lower taxes, and do all of this without any human costs.

Upon inspection however, it is evident that the plan on which the Republican Party has staked its reputation is riddled with assumptions.

First, let's consider some of the most egregious aspects of the budget, which make it undeniably clear that Ryan's budget is anything but serious.

The plan would scrap current progressive tax rates and replace them with a two-tiered system with a 10 percent marginal rate and 25 percent marginal. The budget does not specify at what incomes levels those rates would apply, but as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, if the 10 and 25 percent rates applied as they do today, the federal debt would grow by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years.  

Ryan claims that the lost revenues would be recouped by abolishing tax benefits.

No doubt this would be a welcome change. Alas, Ryan does not specify a single tax benefit that he would eliminate. Further, Ryan's plan would hold federal revenues to 15.4 percent of GDP — requiring the elimination of half of all tax benefits to fill the gap.

To think that this will happen is absurd, especially considering that just six tax expenditures — including the wildly popular health-insurance and the home-mortgage deductions — make up half of all tax benefits. 

The absurdity of the Ryan plan however, is not constrained to the tax side of the equation — Ryan projects that all federal spending excluding health, defense, and Social Security will be held to less than 4 percent of GDP. This might well be the most offensive assumption made in the entire Ryan budget.

When you consider that defense spending in the United States has not gone below 3 percent of GDP since World War II, and that Ryan's budget would allocate hundreds of billions of dollars beyond the baseline for defense spending, Ryan's budget would require that we effectively abolish the rest of the federal government — no highway funding, no food or environmental safety protections, no education funding.

Under the Ryan budget, food aid for low-income families would be cut by $134 billion. Right now, 13 percent of Iowans are food insecure. They cannot afford to make that sacrifice.

And it is projected that a third of Medicaid beneficiaries — of whom nearly three quarters are children, the disabled, the elderly, and the poor — could lose coverage. They cannot afford that sacrifice.

And then there's the cost of Medicaid that would be shifted onto the elderly and would require future beneficiaries to save $600,000 in their working life time to afford the same level of coverage current beneficiaries receive. They nor the state of Iowa can afford to watch that otherwise disposable income evaporate.

Ryan might have a reputation as a serious man, but his most recent budget reveals him to be a practitioner of shady budgetary alchemy. He not only proposed a budget so full of holes that the CBO could not score it as policy, the assumptions made in it are not tenable — by both political and historical measures.

Worst of all, when you consider that his ideal outcome is one that would impose tremendous human costs and pays no mind to the proper role of government, it becomes frighteningly clear that it is a dark brand of magic indeed that Ryan and his fellow Republicans are practicing.


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