Budget

Paul Ryan's Budget Plan: Be Everything Obama is Not

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Photo credit: U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

One way to read Rep. Paul Ryan's budget is not as a collection of individual policies, but as a simple positioning statement: On fiscal matters, the Republican party would like to be most everything that President Obama is not.

Ryan's budget plan defunds ObamaCare, attempts to balance the budget in 10 years, converts Medicare into a premium support system, and block grants Medicaid. It calls for reducing the corporate income tax rate and, in the long term, aims to convert the individual income tax to a two–tier system with just two tax brackets, 10 and 25 percent.

It is, as much as anything, a reaction to an administration that says it has no intention of balancing the budget, refuses to consider structural reforms to Medicare even while admitting that its trajectory is unsustainable, insists that Medicaid cannot be touched, spent the last campaign pushing for higher tax rates on the wealthy, and now, after winning a battle for a higher top tax rate, continues to press for additional tax revenue in order to fund the government. It's almost binary: The White House says on, Republicans say off; Obama says yes, Paul Ryan says no.

I say almost because it's not quite true there's no overlap whatsoever. Ryan's plan would retain the revenue raisers in ObamaCare, for example—including the Medicare cuts he's criticized. And the White House has at times indicated it could be open to slashing various tax carve outs, along with rates, and in that context perhaps even reducing the number of brackets.

But Ryan's budget plan isn't substantially driven by points of agreement. It is driven instead by opposition to President Obama's priorities.

Sometimes—as with Medicare and Medicaid—that means declaring that President Obama would do is no good, and suggesting the outlines of an alternative. But at other times, it means declaring that what President Obama would do is no good, and then merely insisting that we should try to find something else to do.

It's telling, for example, that despite warning of the Democrats' "delay and deny approach to Social Security's looming bankruptcy," Ryan's plan merely calls for the president and Congress to submit plans to shore up the program's trust fund—without providing any details about what those plans might entail. The plan warns of the many problems in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, but then offers "revisit flawed financial regulations" as its "solution." That's not a plan to do something. It's a weak proposal to not do something, maybe.  

This is a problem that plagued Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, which defined itself almost entirely in opposition to the president, but never seemed to have an independent agenda of its own.

That's a dangerous place to be, in part because it can make someone seem like the bad guy: Screenwriting guides often instruct writers to create villains who are defined in opposition to the hero's goals. The hero is positive, the villain is negative; the hero for something, the villain against. There's a similar dynamic in political battles as well. 

Now, given the nation's dismal fiscal outlook and its sluggish economic performance, opposition is not necessarily a bad place for the GOP to start, especially as a minority party with limited ability to set the legislative agenda. But it's only a start. For Republicans to begin winning the fiscal argument with Obama, they'll eventually have to figure out more than what they're against—and make a sustained case that they're for something too. 

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  1. On fiscal matters, the Republican party would like to be most everything that President Obama is not.

    As a matter of policy on almost issue, that is not a bad course of action. Of course, they’re not nearly far enough away from the O, but baby steps in the right direction are better than the current regime’s Great Leaps Forward.

    1. Except when you want to spend an extra $2T on the military instead of actually, you know, balancing the budget.

    2. Precisely; BO is horrible on pretty much every issue, and yet Suderman rips the GOP for being against Obama on every issue, ostensibly because their opposition is not due to a coherent philosophy. That’s bullshit.

      1. Is he ripping the GOP for being against Obama, or for not having a coherent philosophy? You can criticize Obama and Republicans at the same time Tulpa

      2. Maybe it’s because the GOP says one thing and does another.

        Nah, that couldn’t fucking be it.

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  2. This is a problem that plagued Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which defined itself almost entirely in opposition to the president, but never seemed to have an independent agenda of its own.

    Not true. Romney had clearly laid out his plans in specific points repeatedly, but the MSM (and sadly most of H&R) chose to ignore it and instead promote the lie that he “never seemed to have an independent agenda”.

    This was piss poor reporting on the part of everyone and I’m tired of seeing this lie repeated. You may not have liked or agreed with Romney’s plans, but it’s not true that he never had “an independent agenda”.

    1. Well, that extra $2T that Romney wanted to spend on the military most certainly wasn’t going to help balance the budget any. Which is why people said he staked out positions like this just to be in opposition to Obama.

      The only reasonable proposal I can remember, budget balancing wise, from Romney’s campaign was the one about limiting deductions for high earners.

      But, by all means, if you can recall other positions that didn’t smack of pure opposition to the incumbent, point them out.

      1. The only reasonable proposal I can remember

        Practically a citation.

      2. To be sure, Ryan’s current proposal is substantially more aggressive than his original one. I don’t recall, but wasn’t that plan part of the Romney campaign’s budget policy?

      3. He laid it out for all to see, many just ignored it.

        http://economistsforromney.fil…..growth.pdf

    2. “but the MSM (and sadly most of H&R) chose to ignore it and instead promote the lie that he “never seemed to have an independent agenda”.”

      Not to mention the phony War on Women the media promoted.

    3. Romney had a plan, but he didn’t emphasize it as a central part of his campaign. You can’t just blame the media when Romney didn’t do his part to sell it. He ran primarily as the “not-Obama” candidate

      1. ^THIS^

  3. It’s all talk…
    Elephant talk.

  4. Wow, you’re still in campaign season form, Suderman. It is nice to see that you still nitpick conservatives and weren’t doing it merely to help Obama demoralize his opposition.

    1. Tulpa sad that Reason writer doesn’t fellate the GOP. Story at 11

  5. “Be Everything Obama is Not”

    If only that were true

    1. ^^This

      Get back to me when some actually proposes cutting real taxes and spending by more than a sliver.

    2. Somehow, a 2014 budget that spends as much as the 2013 outlays doesn’t strike me as being much that Obama is not.

      1. Then we would move on to spending. And we would cut spending by 5%, in real terms, per year, until the budget balanced.

        Depending on the actual inflation rate, a 2014 budget that held spending constant from 2013 would probably meet at least half of your campaign promise. It’s not perfect, but it’s much more not Obama than like Obama, who squeals and pouts over cuts in the rate of increase in spending.

        1. Right, Obama squeals about cuts in social programs and a lack of infrastructure funding, while the Republicans like Paul squeal over any cut in defense.

          So why is Obama the obvious enemy? Aren’t they both almost equally as bad?

          1. Paul squeals over any cut in defense since when? He’s one of the few Republicans who’s suggested defense spending could be cut, that it wasn’t all necessary to the national defense.

          2. Oh wait, you mean Paul RYAN. Oops. Damned first names, they’re sneaky like that.

  6. “Be Everything Obama is Not”

    Why I listen to very little talk radio anymore… something was fine when Bush did it (i.e. running up the debt, growing gummint) but is now bad that Obama is doing it.

    How about it’s bad in *both* instances?

  7. This is a problem that plagued Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, which defined itself almost entirely in opposition to the president, but never seemed to have an independent agenda of its own.

    What? I remember his agenda perfectly! He wanted to make a war on women, lower taxes for billionaires, remove all benefits for 47% of America, kill jobs and the middle class, and basically do everything Bush did, only more eviller.

  8. “That’s a dangerous place to be, in part because it can make someone seem like the bad guy”

    Or maybe the problem is with the people who divide everyone in politics into “bad guys” and “good guys”, rather than ignoring personalities and evaluating the choices and policies on their own merits.

  9. I am glad that Ryan’s budget plan defunds ObamaCare. Would it also defund the drone program? That could save a chunk of change – and also save lives. Is that too much to hope for?

    1. “Is that too much to hope for?”

      Right now, yes.

  10. As newly elected President Dean, I would start with tax reform. Make it perfectly clear to everyone that I will veto every bill until a tax reform bill is signed. The first line of the reform bill would have to repeal the existing IRC in its entirety.

    And I would make it clear that the taxes in that bill would be the taxes for the next four years. Any attempt to increase taxes or create special favors would be vetoed.

    Then we would move on to spending. And we would cut spending by 5%, in real terms, per year, until the budget balanced. They could pass all the spending bills they wanted over that amount, but they would get vetoed. They could override the veto, but somehow the executive branch would just never get around to cutting the checks. SCOTUS could say I was required to, but fuck SCOTUS. They wanna hold me in contempt, send the Marshals over for a talk with the Secret Service. You want to wreck this country economically, impeach me and remove me from office. Its a no-lose deal: worst case scenario is that the Imperial Presidency is brought to heel.

    1. Before I vote for you I just want to make sure – Your first name is not “Howard”? Is it?

      1. Robert Clayton Dean. Google it.

        1. “Enemy of the State” – Good. The State needs more enemies.

      2. That’s “HowaRd” spelled with a capital “R”.

    2. But what if I want to make war on women? Will a Dean presidency help me do that?

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  13. “But Ryan’s budget plan isn’t substantially driven by points of agreement.”

    I’m not sure that it is a political enemy’s job to agree with you. Since when has this become the standard? (and of course it only goes one way)

    It is bothersome that everyone, even his enemies, seem to think that the whole world should do everything with consideration for Obama’s feelings. What a sensitive politician.

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