Following up on this morning's coverage, we've had a few hours to review House Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan and hear his defense, and there's one question that's proving hard to avoid: this is the guy the Beltway says deserves to be taken seriously?
Well, actually, there's more than one question. It's just the one I keep asking myself.
In terms of the plan itself, Ezra called it "social engineering with a side of deficit reduction," which sounds about right. The budget proposal slashes public spending on domestic programs, most notably on health care, while effectively eliminating Medicare. At the same time, it offers the wealthy another round of deep tax cuts, to be paid for with tax-reform revenue that Ryan refuses to identify.
The House GOP budget plan, in other words, is largely the exact opposite of what the American mainstream wants, and bears no resemblance to the platform the American electorate endorsed in national elections four months ago. It's designed to satisfy folks who believe the wealthy are over-burdened by taxes and struggling families have too much access to affordable health care.
Much of the news coverage this morning seems to be focused on Ryan's plan to balance the budget in 10 years, but I'd hesitate before accepting this premise. For one thing, until Republicans can fill in the magic asterisks on how to pay for their tax cuts, the plan doesn't really balance the budget at all. For another, if the goal were really to eliminate the deficit, Ryan wouldn't be calling for massive tax breaks in the first place.
But if you watch the video above, note how woefully unpersuasive Ryan's defense is. Asked about his motivations, Ryan says the government "just can't" spend more than it takes in, though for the vast majority of American history, we've always spent more than we've taken in.
Asked about his reliance on Obama's tax increases, Ryan says, "We're not going to fight the past," except for the part of his plan that eliminates the portion of the Affordable Care Act that expands benefits, which means he's necessarily fighting the past.
Asked about the 2012 election results, Ryan says he refuses to give up his "principles," will of the voters be damned.
Did the congressman not think these arguments through before his event?
Finally, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Ryan's arguments that the American people have to balance their budgets, so Washington has to do the same. Of all the fiscal arguments pushed by the right -- though, in fairness, some on the left sometimes make the same mistake -- this is one of the very worse.
At first blush, I can appreciate its appeal -- the argument has a certain down-home, common-sense sort of quality to it. If American families and American businesses can't run massive deficits and borrow billions from China, the argument goes, why does the American government?
So let's review once more why this is wrong: families and businesses borrow money and run deficits all the time. This is a positive, not a negative, development.
When a family goes to buy a home, for example, its members don't simply write a check; they take out a mortgage. Almost no one can afford to simply and literally buy a home outright, so we take out very large loans, and make payments, with interest.
The same is true when a family wants a car, tackles college tuition, or thinks about starting a small business. American families, in other words, take on debts, some of them huge relative to their incomes, all the time. There's nothing wrong with any of this -- these are just routine examples of people investing in themselves, as they should.
Businesses to do this, too, borrowing money to make capital improvements, expand locations, buy smaller companies, etc. Companies generally create jobs this way, and do so with the blessing of investors.
The government's debts aren't identical, but officials take on debts to invest in things they consider worthwhile, too. A family that relies on student loans to pay for college should be able to relate to a government that relies on loans to pay for public services. The family thinks it'll be worth living in the red for a while, so long as it can make the payments and afford the interest, because they'll be better off in the long run -- and the government believes the exact same thing.
And they're both correct.
Maybe Ryan finds this confusing, or maybe he understands it full well and hopes to fool people. Either way, it's a bad argument.