Pixel Tracker

Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 9:52 am | Fair 56º


Joe Conason: Ryan’s Budget Plan Neither Serious Nor Courageous

Congressman's far-fetched predictions undermine the entire proposal

What the meteoric career of Paul Ryan demonstrates is how easily impressed we are whenever a politician purports to restore solvency by punishing the poor and the elderly (while coddling the rich). The Wisconsin Republican congressman’s fiscal plan has won rave reviews from both the usual right-wing suspects and some self-styled centrists, who have praised him and his proposals as “serious,” “courageous” and even “uplifting.”

By now, however, those who have actually examined the Ryan plan with care and competence know that those acclamations are highly exaggerated, which is probably a far too polite description.

If a serious budget is a budget that eventually curtails deficits and reduces the national debt within the foreseeable future, the Ryan plan is a joke — as the most casual reader ought to be able to understand. His own published version of the plan doesn’t offer any real estimates past a decade from now, when he still anticipates a substantial deficit. Beyond that, he cites Congressional Budget Office numbers that indicate the budget will at last achieve balance in the year 2040 — or more than a quarter-century from today.

To accept that projection, unfortunately, requires us to simultaneously accept Ryan’s utterly preposterous prediction that unemployment during the next 10 years will drop to 2.8 percent. As the economic sages at the Motley Fool point out, that is a fantastic claim, far below the normal unemployment rate of about 6 percent.

Should that kind of meteoric growth indeed occur over the coming decade, there would probably be no need to contemplate the cuts in spending and entitlements now contemplated by both Democrats and Republicans. Happy days would truly be here again. But the conservative Heritage Foundation, whose economists first calculated those wildly optimistic numbers for Ryan, has not been able to substantiate them — and in fact have now erased the figure from its website.

In other words, the same economists who formulated the numbers behind the Ryan budget have withdrawn their fundamental assertion, undermining his entire proposal.

For a budget to be serious, it would also have to finance basic national needs that must be met for us to remain economically competitive. At a minimum, those include massive repairs and rebuilding of the crumbling infrastructure — from roads, bridges, ports and airports to the communications and electrical grids — as well as education and the environment.

But the Ryan plan envisions devastating reductions in infrastructure, education and environmental spending, with cuts as high as 70 percent. Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities — a respected expert who would never dream of fraudulently projecting 2.8 percent unemployment — says Ryan’s budget would ultimately defund all government functions except for defense (and drastically diminished Medicare and Social Security payments). In what sense is that a serious or responsible plan?

So the Ryan plan isn’t really serious, but is it courageous and uplifting? Only if slashing services for low-income Americans and denying Medicare to tens of millions of older people is somehow brave and inspirational — and only if courage is defined by doling out still more tax cuts to the country’s wealthiest families (like the construction magnates in the Ryan family).

Greenstein calculates that at least two-thirds of the cuts proposed by Ryan would have to come from programs for people with low and moderate incomes, including food stamps, Pell grants, housing and Medicaid. Meanwhile, he would literally ask nothing from the rich or corporate special interests, except perhaps to cash their enormous tax refund checks with a smile. Moreover, he would exempt one group from his scheme to abolish Medicare, which just happens to be the voters now over 55 years old who are the most reliable Republicans.

What might be truly courageous for a Republican politician, of course, would be to urge sacrifice from his party’s rich contributors as well as from the poor and the middle class. That would be the start of serious budgeting, too.

Joe Conason writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.