Sunday, March 17, 2013

Has the "Paul Ryan Is a Budget Wonk" Illusion Finally Run Its Course?

From budget wonk to flimflam man in three easy budgets, none of which were enacted.

Paul Ryan had a good run, thanks to all the pundits, like David Brooks, who bought and then sold the notion that he was a "policy wonk" and a "budget wonk." That run appears to be over or nearly so. The question is, really, why he ever got that reputation in the first place.

If I recall correctly, there was some speculation that his casting as wonk was to fill a deficit in the Republican Party: What was needed was intellectual heft in a party bereft of new ideas, and young Paul Ryan fit the bill. The fact that he actually never had any intellectual heft was unnoticed by a sufficient number of journalists, that is until now.

Here are reactions to Ryan's new fiscal 2014 budget. First, Paul Krugman:
Way back in 2010, when everybody in Washington seemed determined to anoint Representative Paul Ryan as the ultimate Serious, Honest Conservative, I pronounced him a flimflam man. Even then, his proposals were obviously fraudulent: huge cuts in aid to the poor, but even bigger tax cuts for the rich, with all the assertions of fiscal responsibility resting on claims that he would raise trillions of dollars by closing tax loopholes (which he refused to specify) and cutting discretionary spending (in ways he refused to specify).
Since then, his budgets have gotten even flimflammier. For example, at this point, Mr. Ryan is claiming that he can slash the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, yet somehow raise 19.1 percent of G.D.P. in revenues — a number we haven’t come close to seeing since the dot-com bubble burst a dozen years ago.
The good news is that Mr. Ryan’s thoroughly unconvincing policy-wonk act seems, finally, to have worn out its welcome. In 2011, his budget was initially treated with worshipful respect, which faded only slightly as critics pointed out the document’s many absurdities. This time around, quite a few pundits and reporters have greeted his release with the derision it deserves.
That's not surprising, coming from Krugman. More surprising is Dana Milbank's reaction:

Paul Ryan’s budget is an amazing and wondrous document.

Not only does it balance the budget in 10 years while reducing tax rates, it also does so without any pain or suffering — or even breaking a sweat. It achieves not just the longtime goals of policymakers — “a safety net strengthened . . . retirement secured . . . a nation protected” — but also brings about changes in human nature that have bedeviled civilization from the beginning of time. “This budget ends cronyism; eliminates waste, fraud and abuse,” Ryan’s plan promises.
"Now, how do we do this?” Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, asked with a magician’s flourish as he unveiled his budget Tuesday morning.
Here’s how: The former Republican vice presidential candidate’s budget eliminates ___ loopholes in the tax code, cutting the ___ and the ____ deductions. It reduces spending on the ____ program by _____ and the _____ program by _____. Retirees would see ____, students would experience ____ and the poor would be _____.
There are so many blanks in Ryan’s budget that it could be a Mad Libs exercise. But this is not a game. It’s black-box budgeting — an expression of lofty aims, with binders full of magic asterisks in lieu of specific cuts to government benefits. If this were a fitness plan, Ryan, a former personal trainer, would be telling Americans that under his revolutionary program, they could lose 50 pounds in 10 weeks without dieting or working out.
Ouch. And Dana Milbank is no roaring progressive. Beverly Mann of Angry Bear may be. I don't know because I've just started reading her. She is no shrinking violet when it comes to Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan is, in effect, the Joe McCarthy of our era.  He consistently spews outlandishly false statements of fact, never offers actual evidence in support of them and never refutes factual challenges using actual and full facts, and tries as a matter of routine to obfuscate his specific and broader objectives and therefore to trick the public.
He is a serious nutcase.  And yet he has garnered mainstream media attention as though what he puts out is credible.  We have a mainstream media that treats this nutjob as though he were a legitimate policy wonk. And that acts as though facts are legitimately in the eye of the beholder.
Okay. Matthew Yglesias, Moneybox blogger at Slate, does not sugarcoat it either, with his piece entitled "Paul Ryan Will Balance the Budget With Class War on Behalf of the Rich:"
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed laying out the case for the House Republican budget, Paul Ryan contends that "the most important question isn't how we balance the budget." When a politician tells you something he's doing isn't so important, that's probably a good place to look at where the ball's been hidden.
And judging by the budget he just released, the "how" here is pretty darn important. The budget will be balanced, if Ryan gets his way, through a campaign of thoroughgoing class warfare aimed at Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution in order to protect the interests of a small, high-income minority.
Ryan's plan starts, like all good GOP deficit reduction plans, with a giant tax cut. Specifically, he wants to replace the current progressive rate structure with a two-rate structure—10 percent and 25 percent. If you're currently an individual paying a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate on your income over $400,000, that's an enormous tax cut. If you're currently an individual paying a 25 percent marginal tax rate on your income of $70,000 a year you may wonder what's in it for you here. The answer is, most likely, higher taxes.
Flimflam is the proper designation for the Ryan budget(s). Why did it take so long?

I did try to find a spirited defense of the Ryan budget in the right-wing press, and this was the best I could come up with. It's by Michael Tanner at the National Review:
In the kingdom of the blind, according to Erasmus, the one-eyed man is king. And in a land of big spenders, the budget proposed yesterday by Representative Paul Ryan is a model of fiscal rectitude.
Let’s be honest about one thing: The budget introduced yesterday has about as much chance of becoming law as Nancy Pelosi does of being elected pope.
And of course Ryan’s budget relies on a veritable garden’s worth of rosy assumptions in order to reach balance, including the repeal of Obamacare and GDP growth of slightly more than 3 percent. Either or both could happen, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
But at least it is a budget. [...]
At least it is a budget. Wow. What was that line about faint praise? Well, it hardly matters. The nation is better off if we achieve a consensus around the notion that Paul Ryan isn't a wonk, isn't an intellectual, isn't a serious policy man, and doesn't hold the key to the new-ideas factory that the Republicans should be running three shifts a day, seven days a week.

Wait. I suppose I should let Charles P. Pierce of Esquire weigh in:
Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from Wisconsin and most recent first runner-up in the vice-presidential pageant, has released his latest "budget," which is only a budget in the same way that what the guy says to the pigeons in the park is a manifesto. It is constructed from the same magical thinking, the same conjuring words, the same elusive asterisks, and the same obvious obfuscations of its actual intent that Paul Ryan and his running mate put forward in the last campaign, in which they were so thoroughly rejected that Ryan couldn't even carry his home town. In fact, in this fiscal fantasia, the magical thinking, conjuring words, and obvious obfuscations are now run by us at 78 r.p.m. so as to balance the budget in 10 years rather than in 40. It is very doubtful that a country that declined to savage itself on a 30-year layaway plan is likely to agree to do so over a decade so as to get all the savaging done at once. What is it about elections that Paul Ryan doesn't understand?
What is it about America that he just doesn't get?
Pierce, whose avocation beyond politics is humorist, finds Ryan particularly unfunny. For an even more scathing Pierce takedown of the faux princeling of things fiscal, please don't miss this one called "Things in Politico That Make Me Want to Guzzle Antifreeze, Part the Infinity." If you still think Ryan has an unsuspect idea in his head, you're the one guzzling antifreeze.

So, who is the new-ideas guy or gal for the GOP? Marco Rubio? Rand Paul? Scott Walker? Bobby Jindal? Chris Christie? Jeb Bush?

If you answered Rand Paul, you'd be in line with the attendees at CPAC this week, who voted Paul in as conservative favorite, 2013.

What are his ideas again?

Of course, Rand Paul isn't fixated on Hitler. He's only referenced him constantly since April, 2009, which I'm sure is only a coincidental date, coming a couple of months after Obama was elected. Check out the occasions on TPM.

Update. Even conservatives are turning on Paul Ryan. Uh oh.

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