Paul Ryan’s budget — more pixie-dust than pragmatism

Dave Weigel has some typically excellent (and funny) reporting in Slate on Paul Ryan’s budget:

Ryan was asked why he incorporated so many of the take-your-medicine suggestions of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission but didn’t take their advice on tax increases. Ryan responded with a koan that was half zen and half Art Laffer.

“When you tax something more, you get less of it,” he said. “When you tax something less, you get more of it.”

That’s not true. Tax receipts nearly doubled during Bill Clinton’s presidency, when income and corporate taxes were raised to levels that no Republican wants to return to….

The Congressional Budget Office compared the projections for the status quo and the Ryan budget over 10-year, 18-year, 28-year, and 38-year windows. The “extended baseline scenario”—the status quo, with the Bush tax cuts expiring—produces a deficit of 2.75 percent of GDP in 2022. The Ryan scenario produces a deficit of 2 percent of GDP. Yet overall debt, according to the CBO, would be higher than if Ryan’s budget weren’t adopted. It’s only when we get to 2040 and on that the deficit vanishes. That’s largely because of the entitlement privatization in the budget, and because of the split-the-baby plan used to make it palatable, where only people born after 1957 or 1958 will participate in the new system.

Read that last part carefully. The budget isn’t balanced until 2040, because Ryan takes something politically unpalatable to old people (cutting Social Security and Medicare) and neatly shifts the burden to people who are young now and aren’t thinking about retirement yet. That’s a really nasty and cynical attempt to buy off the part of the electorate that’s paying attention (“You won’t be affected…”) while destroying America’s most effective and respected social programs for the younger generations who aren’t watching closely yet.

Why Ryan would propose this, when simply raising taxes on the wealthiest brackets to Clinton-era levels, a much more popular and humane solution, would bring us within hailing distance of a balanced budget much sooner, is hard to say. Presumably it’s along the lines of: something something free hand of the invisible market something something. Really, who gives a shit? The guy’s insincere about wanting to reduce our public debt. End of story.

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