A ‘Scrooge-like, Gilded-Age’ budget plan

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Following up on yesterday’s coverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has released his caucus’ new budget plan, and there’s no shortage of wonky analyses to check out. Ezra Klein had a good piece this morning, for example, noting that the GOP vision punishes the poor severely, while Jonathan Cohn details the brutal effect Ryan’s cuts would have on Americans’ health care.

But folks also shouldn’t miss the analysis from the CBPP’s Robert Greenstein, whose reaction to the Republican plan was simply devastating.

The new Ryan budget is a remarkable document – one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse – on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history). […]

Chairman Ryan says these changes in domestic programs are necessary due to the nation’s severe fiscal straits. The nation’s fiscal straits, however, surely do not justify massive new tax cuts for its wealthiest people alongside budget cuts that would cast tens of millions of less fortunate Americans into the ranks of the uninsured, take food from poor children, make it harder for low-income students to get a college degree, and squeeze funding for research, education, and infrastructure. Under Chairman Ryan’s budget, our nation would be a very different one – less fair and less generous, with an even wider gap between the very well-off and everyone else (especially between rich and poor) – and our society would be a coarser one.

It need not be this way. In 1990, 1993, and 1997, policymakers enacted major deficit reduction packages that reduced deficits in a more balanced way, without increasing poverty. Deficit reduction does not require the Scrooge-like, Gilded-Age policies that the Ryan plan embodies.

It’s worth noting that Greenstein is not a wild-eyed ideologue or partisan bomb-thrower; he’s one of Washington’s most respected budget experts. He’s not prone to hyperbole or rhetorical excesses, so when Greenstein uses language like this, it’s only because of the unusual extremism of the policy agenda itself.

I’d note just one other angle to keep in mind. For three years, we’ve heard incessant talk from the right, accusing President Obama of pursuing a radical socialist agenda that would turn the United States into a country most of us wouldn’t recognize. It’s always been ridiculous – love Obama or hate him, his vision is entirely mainstream – but the Paul Ryan plan reminds us how ironic the charges are, too.

There’s only one group of people in Washington who are eager to overhaul the nature of the American experience. They’re called House Republicans.

Paul Ryan and Budget

A 'Scrooge-like, Gilded-Age' budget plan

Updated