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Paul Ryan bolsters Democratic concerns with focus on entitlements

Democrats want to tell voters that the GOP tax plan represents a threat to Social Security and Medicare. Paul Ryan is helping prove Dems right.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. 

It's only been a few months since Republicans approved a massive package of regressive tax breaks, but so far, Democratic predictions about the GOP policy are holding up pretty well.

Democrats said, for example, that the corporate beneficiaries of the tax breaks would use their windfalls on priorities such as stock buybacks, which is what's happening. Dems said the Republican plan included all kinds of sloppy and consequential errors that would need fixes, which is also happening.

And Democrats said that once the tax cuts blow a massive hole in the budget, Republicans will use the mess they created to justify cuts to social-insurance programs that millions of families rely on. And wouldn't you know it, a Bloomberg Politics reporter highlighted this quote yesterday from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.):

Paul Ryan reiterates his call for cutting "entitlements," saying that's the "name of the game on debt and deficits.""We're just going to have to keep at it," he says.

Now, we're not.

The idea that the Wisconsin congressman actually cares about "debt and deficits" is obviously hard to take seriously. In the Bush/Cheney era, Ryan voted with his party in support of both of George W. Bush's tax cuts, both of George W. Bush's wars in the Middle East, Medicare Part D, and the Wall Street bailout -- none of which Republicans even tried to pay for.

More recently -- which is to say, a few months ago -- Ryan helped champion a GOP tax plan that adds $1 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

With this in mind, no one should be fooled into thinking the House Speaker is genuinely committed to tackling "debt and deficits." Ryan's record obviously points in the opposite direction.

But what I'm especially interested in is the degree to which the Republican leader's rhetoric bolsters Democratic predictions.

Though the debate over the GOP tax plan was brief, it featured plenty of congressional Dems arguing that Republicans would pass tax cuts for the wealthy, blow up the deficit, and then target Social Security and Medicare, crying about the importance for "fiscal responsibility."

Ryan wasted no time confirming Democrats' fears. The Speaker started talking up Medicare cuts in December, and Social Security cuts soon after.

For proponents of these popular social-insurance programs, Ryan's ambitions are probably alarming, but let's not lose sight of election-year messaging: Democrats want to tell voters that the Republicans' unpopular tax plan represents a threat to celebrated pillars of modern American society such as Social Security and Medicare.

And whether he intended to or not, the Speaker of the House is effectively endorsing the Dems' line.