'Core Constitutional Roles' Like Job Training, Farm Subsidies, and Health Insurance

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's fiscal plan "disavows the relentless government spending, taxing, and borrowing that are leading America, right at this moment, toward a debt-fueled economic crisis and the demise of America's exceptional promise." Instead it lays out "a path to prosperity–by limiting government to its core constitutional roles, keeping America's promises to seniors, and unleashing the genius of America's workers, investors, and entrepreneurs." From this I gather that Ryan thinks sending retirees a check every month and paying for their health care are among the federal government's "core constitutional roles." Judging from the programs that Ryan wants to cut or consolidate rather than eliminate, so are a lot of other activities that one would be hard pressed to locate under any of Congress' enumerated powers, including medical coverage for poor people, agricultural subsidies, college scholarships, and job training.

Ryan is on firmer ground when he says "the first responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the defense of the nation." But that should not mean that anything labeled "defense" gets a free pass. One of the plan's notable weaknesses is its failure to question the premise that defending the nation requires the U.S. government to spend as much on military programs as the rest of the world combined—and more today in real terms than at the height of the Cold War. Instead Ryan endorses Defense Secretary Robert Gates' $178 billion in proposed "savings," $100 billion of which would be "reinvested in higher military priorities," leaving just $78 billion in cuts over five years from a budget that totals about $700 billion annually. Just as Republicans don't think President Obama should be able to shield domestic spending from scrutiny by calling it an "investment," Democrats should not let Republicans get away with the same trick when it comes to military spending. But since Ryan's Pentagon proposal is essentially the same as Obama's, and Democrats in any case are traditionally afraid of seeming soft on defense, we are not likely to see fiscal counterproposals that are heavier on military cuts.

I'll have more to say about Ryan's plan (including its strong points) in my column tomorrow.

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  • juris imprudent||

    "core constitutional roles"

    What constituency supports that?

  • Straw Man Party||

    Mine.

  • JB||

    Dems think all government, but the military, is competent.

    Reps think all government, but the military, is incompetent.

    They are both wrong. All government is incompetent.

  • SIV||

    Paul Ryan thinks government bailouts of Wall Street banks, dinosaur industries and unions are "core Constitutional" issues.

  • ||

    Maybe Ryan can call his proposal the "milquetoast fiscal plan".

  • Sudden||

    So his claims that his budget plan reduces federal spending to "core constitutional functions" is disingenious at best. I'll admit that. But I think he probably would rather prefer to limit the budget to such core functions.

    We can't let perfect be the enemy of good here. He is trying to propose budgets that will trim the fat at the margins for the time being and still be palatable enough to the wider electorate. But make no mistake, Ryan wants to considerably reduce federal spending. He just knows that he can't get it all at once. (note: that does not mean I don't think we should criticize certain areas of it as that will provide a blueprint of where to make future cuts; but let's at least be intellectually honest enough to say his budget proposal is leaps and bounds better than the existing alternatives).

  • SIV||

    But I think he probably would rather prefer to limit the budget to such core functions.

    That's why he voted for TARP and the auto bailouts.

  • Doktor Kapitalism||

    Yes, perfect is the enemy of good. Perfect would be putting the government into a trillion dollar surplus, because we cut next to everything.

    Since we can't have that, let's compromise and cut several hundred billion.

  • MJ||

    Sudden, pitting the perfect against the good is a Reason writer's raison d'etre. You cannot deny Sullum the joy of his political philosophy to be perfectly pure and perfectly impotent.

  • The Good Libertarian||

    We can't let perfect be the enemy of good here.

    You and I have never met before, have we?

  • robc||

    We can't let perfect be the enemy of good here.

    Dont let the mediocre be the enemy of perfect here either.

    Ryan's plan is mediocre, not good.

    Paul's plan, while flawed, MIGHT qualify as good.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    It's almost like he is imperfect and constrained by political reality and the votes of 535 other people.

    Luckily, there are plenty of better plans on the table out there with a chance to be voted on and passed.

  • ||

    Ha.

  • ||

    Political reality does not force Ryan into using "core constitutional roles" rhetoric. Whatever, the merits/drawbacks of his plan are, blatantly mislabeling it to score political points among the GOP drones is very disappointing.

  • Ynot||

    No, but trying to counter the relentless MSM spin, which will hammer Ryan's plan like a whore at the Bunny Ranch, and the Democrats claims that the Ryan plan will starve seniors (or grind them into chop meat to feed the rich, one or the other) would seem to require some type of rhetorical flourish.

    But don't worry, the alternatives out there are MUCH, MUCH closer to libertarian ideals … so let's just hold out for something better and attack Ryan because he isn't the reincarnation of Murray Rothbard

  • MJ||

    Overhearing a discussion between my Democrat aunt and moderate stepmother, according to them Ryan is a monster who wants seniors and children to die because his budget goes after the big ticket items in the federal budget.

  • The Good Libertarian||

    Yeah! That's it! Down with Ryan! Down with Ryan! Lynch the bastard! We got lots more much betterer great idea people in D.C. who are going to do us right.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yeah. Good luck with that.

  • Name Nomad||

    Is anyone else kind of hoping that congress only implements watered-down halfquarter-measures just so we can see interesting stuff happen?

  • Doktor Kapitalism||

    We're currently talking something more like 1/64th or 1/128th.

  • The Good Libertarian||

    Those are some mighty small numbers you got in the denominator there bud.

  • ||

    What strikes me as politically brain dead about this proposal is the insert about cutting taxes for the wealthy by $700 billion over 10 years. The Dems are seizing on this, that the proposal is cutting programs for the poor while give more tax cuts to the rich. I'm predicting they're going to win the moral debate because of this piece. Why not cut the taxes for the lower middle class who will bear the brunt of the inflationary pressure from our debt, making it that much harder for Democrats to condemn?

  • zoltan||

    Why not cut the taxes for the lower middle class

    Probably because they're not paying any already.

  • ||

    Lower middle class is paying some (depends on where you draw the line), but we should phase out the income tax from the bottom up.

  • Professional Critic||

    We already have. The top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of income taxes. The top 25% pay 86%. The top 5% of taxpayers pay over 58% of all income taxes. Get your facts right.

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html

  • Sudden||

    I think the thing that we ought to do is make sure that anytime we raise taxes (or allow tax cuts to sunset), that we make sure the lower and middle classes are getting the increased taxes too. Seriously, we need everyone to share the burden of spending in order for spending to go down. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to polish my monocle while I look for an ivory backscratcher made from endangered elephant tusks online.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    I am disgusted that you don't have orphaned children enslaved to do your shopping for you.

  • Almanian||

    Maybe he does and he's just not telling out of modesty

  • ||

    No, the orphaned children are working in his mines.

    The shopping is done by the children illegal immigrant housekeeper.

  • fish||

    Lisa, a guy who's got lots of ivory is _less_ likely to hurt Stampy than a guy whose ivory supplies are low.

  • ||

    Oh, I'm fully aware that the rich/upper middle class are paying the bulk of the taxes. That said, I don't think trickle down economics is as effective as giving tax cuts to those who would use it immediately in the economy and who will need it more to offset the inflationary burden of the debt on their cost of living. And regardless of my feelings on the subject, the bad political optics of cutting programs for the lower class and cutting taxes for the upper class will hurt his ability to win people over.

  • Professional Critic||

    You just said we should eliminate income taxes on most people. I showed you we already don't tax nearly 50% of all earners. Now you want to give tax cuts to the same people who don't pay taxes.

    Are you really this dense?

  • ||

    Wow. You're the dense one. I said income taxes need to be phased out from the bottom up - i.e. start where people do pay at the bottom of the bracket and work your way up. I'm aware most of the people on the bottom half don't pay and I agree the wealthy pay too much income tax, but cutting taxes from the top and programs from the bottom is simply not a politically savvy move.

    Very elementary: my stance - trickle down economics is bad politics, regardless of any potential economic merit. Bottom up economics is more politically savvy and, I believe, more economically immediate. Do you need me to be clearer or did you get it this time?

  • robc||

    we should phase out the income tax from the bottom up.

    The problem is that people not paying income tax oppose cuts on those still paying. I would favor a 0% across the board income tax, obviously, but if we are going to have one, it should be reasonably flat.

  • Scott||

    Unless I missed something, it seems that the plan cuts taxes on all brackets. Eliminating loopholes will also greatly help against that argument, I would think. Nonetheless, I do expect any release of tax burden on the rich, even if they already pay a higher percentage in taxes, to be decried as welfare for the rich.

    This plan of Ryan's may not be that great, but if you compare it to other plans that come from establishment Republicans, it's something to be appreciated for the time being. If it were to get passed and then people see that the world did not come crashing down around them, then that might actually open up discussion to plans by legislators like the Pauls.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I'm predicting they're going to win the moral debate because of this piece.

    When did theft and distribution of proceeds from said theft become moral?

  • The Good Libertarian||

    When did we first grow liberals in this country?

  • aeronathan||

    The plan sucks but its not the suckiest proposal I've seen though....

  • Jim||

    Can't someone come up with a better phrase than, "we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"? I've read that 50 times today, and it's bullshit.

    The correct way to describe this is, "we can't let the completely inexcusable be the enemy of the just terrible". We're not choosing between "good" and "perfect", we're choosing between having to wade through a lake of shit, v. having the shit poured into your mouth via funnel.

    We sound like a bunch of pre-Civil War senators. "Well, we can certainly limit slavery, but we can't just end it! That's too radical! It isn't politically feasible!"

  • Professional Critic||

    Do you propose the same remedy to the spending issue as slavery?

  • Jim||

    Actually, I do. I'm a big believer in the right of peaceful secession. The trick is getting the other guy to also be peaceful.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    That's cool, I bet the Texas passports look awesome.

  • Jim||

    If I had any hand in designing them, there'd be hot Mexican chicks on them, with the Star of Texas covering up the strategic crevasse. The stamps would have the same chicks in bikinis, but if you wet the back of the stamp by licking, the bikinis would disappear.

    Remember to vote for me for secretary of state if we're ever our own country!

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Remember to vote for me for secretary of state if we're ever our own country again!

    Work a Longhorn into that design somehow and you have my votes.

  • Jim||

    Fuck that, I went to Texas Tech. I'll refrain from putting the Double "T" on anything, but I'll be damned if I'll have Bevo plastered everywhere more than he already is!

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    OK, but that means you just get one vote.

  • Jim||

    I almost think there's enough Arkansas and OU grads here that combined w/ Tech and A&M, to tip the scales against the longhorn in a regular vote. And that's not even counting all our "little sisters" like SMU, Baylor, UTEP, Rice, etc.

  • ||

    The official emblem of Texas will remain what it always has been:

    Bullshit piled up to the top of the lone star.

  • ||

    My wife always says we're trying to build a fence on the wrong border.

    In Texas, we need to be building a fence on the northern border.

  • ||

    Freaking Oklahoma. They keep bringing their meth and their illegal Native American babies into Texas while stealing our hard-earned money in their casinos.

  • Sudden||

    Fair enough. My employment of the "perfect as enemy of good" line was an inaccurate comparison.

    We can't let our ideals obstruct us from embracing a marginal improvement, as if we do, we will not get marginal improvement, but only hasten the arrival of less than arginal devolution.

  • Jim||

    While I understand the appeal of that logic, please see my reply to AU H20 below. I don't believe this is a marginal improvement. I believe it is a meaningless temporary fix which will be pissed away within a few years, but we'll all still be patting ourselves on the back for having done it, and use that to excuse even greater spending once the economy is churning again. Just like we did after Clinton.

  • The Good Libertarian||

    Hey man, it's my way or the highway.

  • ||

    Give me the budget and an incinerator, and our problems here will soon be over.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    We'll have to spend a few billion on incinerator upgrades first, preferably in my district.

  • ||

    I'll provide my own fire-producing apparatus then. In fact, I'll print the budget on my own.

  • Chupacabra||

    Give me Congress and an incinerator, and our problems here will soon be over.

  • CoyoteBlue||

    "core constitutional functions" = SOMALIA!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSBoO4GzHaI

  • AU H20||

    The plan isn't perfect. But I have to give Ryan creditfor attempting to move the political football on the budget and entitlement reform further and faster than anyone else in Washington.

    Also, if you've been reading any of the commentary on sites frequented by liberals (Daily Kos, NY Times, Huff Po), then you already know that it is going to be difficult enough to get a budget like this passed over the screams of liberals (most of them just seem not to be able to fundamentally understand that "lowering taxes but eliminating deductions= more tax revenue". Seriously, they are all screaming bloody murder about how your cutting from the poor but cutting taxes on the rich and corporations. Also, apparently defense spends more than Medicare, which is news to the budget. I'll post up the more retarded and choice bits later).

    Let's also be honest: It's going to be a lot easier to convince people to cut 1-2% of government spending when they have already seen that 3% is not the end of the world. Furthermore, the plan, at least according to the bit of press conference I saw, does have an automatic trigger forcing a meeting between the President, the Senate, and the House when Social Security is deemed insolvent (Or as I call it, "The Bipartisan Cover" Trigger).

    Honestly, I will at the moment take a full 3% reduction in government spending, a fundamental restructuring of America's biggest and most wasteful entitlement programs, and a serious comiment to the idea that there is, in fact, a problem.

    Should Republicans have pushed for social security reform (I'm a fan of means testing myself, but that's a topic for another time)?

    Well, yes, but if you remember last time they tried that it politically killed them. Honestly, the only way to stand up to the AARP is for both parties to put their ass on the line.

  • Jim||

    when they have already seen that 3% is not the end of the world.

    People already have seen that, during the 90s. But no one is willing to go back to those budgets, because apparently the year 2000 was an apocolyptic hellscape (I don't remember it that way, but what the hell). If people didn't learn then, what makes you think they're going to learn now?

    None of this is progress. It's meaningless to take 1 step forward, only to take 3 back as soon as the next guy is elected and the economy is better. We've been trying to "nudge" the republicans since Reagan, and haven't gotten anywhere with it. In fact, we got the neocons, the exact opposite of what we were pushing for. When Bush started, we had close to a balanced budget, but only 11 years later we're in a full-blown crisis. It can, and will, happen again, no matter what gets passed now.

    All this does is keep us on the trajectory we've been on really since Johnson; an endless series of ever-escalatiing crisis, prompting reaction that addresses some superficial elements but never really solves the underlying problem. As long as the FED exists, as long as the state continues to grow and interferes with the market more and more, this is just meaningless pissing in the wind.

    I'm just not a believer in the "this time it's different" line of reasoning.

  • Peter||

    "We've been trying to "nudge" the republicans since Reagan, and haven't gotten anywhere with it"

    I've been hearing that (without the "since Reagan" bit) from some guys since before Reagan. True story. Truth is that lots of people hate Republicans and conservatives and they find every meaningless reason to not support them. It's time to drop the pose.

    This is the best plan that has a chance of being seriously discussed in the Hill + msm without immediately finishing a political career as of now. It may also buy the country some time. And will move the public debate into the right direction.

  • Jim||

    And again, I challenge you to display how, by going through essentially this same song and dance in the late 90s, we're any better off now 11 years later. Did it stop a crisis? No. Did it convince people that we could have smaller gov't, and to elect representatives which would carry on that fiscal restraint? No. Did it allow a bunch of jackasses to crow about how they'd balanced the budget, allowing them to then increase spending? Yes. And if history is any guide, that is what will happen again here.

    It's all meaningless. It's bullshit political theater, meant to suck in those still gullible enough to believe that our gov't is fine and that somehow the solution is to make sure the "right people" get put in charge through elections in which fewer than half of those eligible participate. It's a farce, and you're falling for it hook, line, and sinker.

  • ||

    I would add that the phrase "core constitutional role" is misleading for another reason:

    The constitution does not REQUIRE the federal government to spend a fucking dime on "defense", common or otherwise. Note that the operative word is REQUIRE.

    GOP types tend to have an intellectual disconnect regarding government incompetence and defense. Most folks would agree that a significant portion of team red holds the position that the state can't do anything well or efficiently. However, when it comes to the military, somehow, the state becomes a paragon of excellence. Such a contention is, of course, frivolous and wholly devoid of merit.

    We all know that the military is not exactly the employer of the best and the brightest. It is often the employer of last resort for the uneducated, the undereducated, the sorry lot of folks who can't hack it in the private sector, for jarheaded anti-intellectual simpletons, for the uncreative, for those who are unable or unwilling to think for themselves and the like.

    Sure, there are some intelligent people in the military. Sure, some officers may be top notch intellectually; however, most of those also share some of the attributes I noted above and / or they come from military families or they needed the free ride at Westpoint or Colorado Springs.

  • sevo||

    "...a significant portion of team red holds the position that the state can't do anything well or efficiently. However, when it comes to the military, somehow, the state becomes a paragon of excellence...."

    Which is a bit of a mystery.
    You'd think that the same portion of team red would be sick of using the US defense budget to allow the Euros to free-ride for the last 60 years or so.

  • Jim||

    Unfortunately for all of us, "thinking" isn't what being a Team Player is all about.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    jarheaded

    Wow, there's going to be a lot of ex-Marines pissed at you!

    ... Hobbit

  • Peter||

    "However, when it comes to the military, somehow, the state becomes a paragon of excellence."

    Strawman much?

    When it comes to the military, the state needs to be the provider.

    Unless you're arguing that the military isn't needed. I really doubt property rights could be enforced in such a scenario. In the real world, I mean.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Unless you're arguing that the military isn't needed. I really doubt property rights could be enforced in such a scenario. In the real world, I mean.

    I think you need to bone up on this whole Posse Comitatus idea.

  • Peter||

    What? I didn't write that the military is needed to enforce the rule of law directly.

  • Mensan||

    We all know that the military is not exactly the employer of the best and the brightest. It is often the employer of last resort for the uneducated...

    U.S. high school graduation rate: 68%
    High school graduates in the militay: 90-100% (the remainder have GEDs)

    U.S. rate of Bachelor's degrees: 22%
    Bachelor's degrees (or higher) among military officers: 100%

    Servicemembers are on the whole more educated than the general population. Sure, there are some dumbasses in the military; but, in my experience, I encountered them far less frequently than I have outside of the military. The "anti-intellectual simpletons" do not fare well in the military. They often encounter discipliary action, and typically don't advance in rank, or remain in the service after their initial enlistment. A good soldier needs to be smart, because stupid soldiers get other people killed.

    Your opinion seems to be based on the stereotype of military personnel which came into being during the draft. Today's professional servicemember bears little resemblance to that historical caricature.

  • Peter||

    Can't understand that post.

    Are you admitting that the "they're all the same, it's not worth it, I won't care until there's a constitutional amendment that declares the government extinct" approach has produced those sad results?

    Because I fully agree, that's exactly my point.

    One has to wonder why would anyone persist in that course of action though. Definition of insanity and all that.

  • Jim||

    No, the "we'll keep trying to support marginal propositions and hope they add up to something" approach has led to those sad results.

  • AU H20||

    Jim, I hate to tell you, but your living in a fantasyland version of the U.S

    Most Americans have an acute case of Tobal Syndrome(There Oughta Be A Law). To even attempt to turn Medicare from a system of unlimited to limited payments is going to be a huge political battle. Quite a few Republicans and probably all of the Democrats are at the moment opposed to the idea of "ending Medicare as we know it" even though some version of the idea must be enacted.

    In a perfect world, voters, especially older voters, would act more rationally and take a longer view. It's the reason that the founding fathers valued the idea of disinterest in politics, with the idea being that people aren't voting to push their oar in the water. Given that that's not the case, a fundamental reform of the one of the biggest drivers of spending is the best we can hope for short of seasteading.

  • robc||

    This is the best plan that has a chance of being seriously discussed in the Hill + msm without immediately finishing a political career as of now.

    Bullshit. The Paul plan is better.

  • deified||

    Each passing decade brings novel and unexpected defeats for the cause of liberty.

  • Sudden||

    Novel, yes.

    Unexpected? hardly.

  • anlojneawljenb||

    Abolish MEDICARE. Abolish MEDICAID. Abolish federal and state student financial aid. The average taxpayer shouldn't have to subsidize your high-income career preparation. Abolish farm subsidies. Cut military spending substantially.

  • Doktor Kapitalism||

    I don't think that's going to get passed too soon.

    Here's an idea I've been floating, though. Let's make federal student grants into student loans. Students have to pay back 25% of it (within a decade of graduation). 10% for "cases of need," whatever those actually are. It would help things out without destroying kids' chances of paying for college.

  • The Good Libertarian||

    We don't need no stinking college students anymore. College degrees are "inflated" and worthless and a badge of dishonor.

    The US economy will hum along just fine without all those colleges around.

    Geesh. Get with the times boy.

  • rather||

    Hmm, change your name to typical libertarian ;-)

  • Anonymous Coward||

    the first responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the defense of the nation.

    No Paul, it really isn't. The first responsibility of the federal government is to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

    Outside of the preamble, there isn't anything the federal government MUST do. There's a lot of shit they MUST NOT do in the Constitution.

    Merely having a power (or a set of powers) is not a reason for exercising it.

  • Mensan||

    Anonymous Coward|4.5.11 @ 9:11PM|#
    the first responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the defense of the nation.

    No Paul, it really isn't. The first responsibility of the federal government is to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

    Let me see if I understand your argument correctly. You're saying that it is not the government's first responsibility to provide for the common defense, because it is the government's first responsibility to provide for the common defense?

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