One of the overarching problems with Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget plan, approved by 95% of the GOP caucus last week, is that it’s hard to know where to start with its flaws. It is, after all, less a budget plan and more a right-wing fantasy.
Does one start with its end to Medicare’s guaranteed benefit? Or the fact that it radically redistributes wealth in the wrong direction? Can one leave out the fact that it doesn’t reduce the debt? And punishes the poor? And lavishes tax breaks for the wealthy who don’t need another break?
Paul Krugman takes a crack at this challenge today, arguing that you can learn everything you need to know about Ryan’s House Republican budget “by understanding two numbers: $4.6 trillion and 14 million.”
Of these, $4.6 trillion is the size of the mystery meat in the budget. Ryan proposes tax cuts that would cost $4.6 trillion over the next decade relative to current policy – that is, relative even to making the Bush tax cuts permanent – but claims that his plan is revenue neutral, because he would make up the revenue loss by closing loopholes. For example, he would … well, actually, he refuses to name a single example of a loophole he wants to close.
So the budget is a fraud. No, it’s not “imperfect”, it’s not a bit shaky on the numbers; it’s completely based on almost $5 trillion dollars of alleged revenue that are pure fabrication.
On the other side, 14 million is the minimum number of people who would lose health insurance due to Medicaid cuts – the Urban Institute, working off the very similar plan Ryan unveiled last year, puts it at between 14 and 27 million people losing Medicaid.
That’s a lot of people – and a lot of suffering. And again, bear in mind that none of this would be done to reduce the deficit – it would be done to make room for those $4.6 trillion in tax cuts, and in particular a tax cut of $240,000 a year to the average member of the one percent.
I mention of all of this, not to rehash just how offensive Ryan’s vision really is, but because two prominent pundits – the New York Times’ David Brooks and the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan – complain in their columns today that President Obama was a big meanie when he criticized the Ryan plan, backed enthusiastically by Mitt Romney, in a speech this week. For the conservative media figures, Obama should have been more accepting of the Ayn Rand acolyte’s extremism, instead of rejecting the Ryan plan so forcefully.
The columnists didn’t say Obama’s remarks were inaccurate, but rather, Brooks and Noonan believe it was impolite for the president to make these accurate observations out loud.
The only way to justify such a perspective is for Brooks and Noonan to believe the Ryan plan isn’t all that bad, which would necessarily suggest Obama’s condemnation was unwarranted. Except, as Krugman succinctly put it, “[I]t really is that bad.”