Are the Ryan Budget’s Spending Cuts Credible?

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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  1. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    Folks used to use the phrase “smoke and mirrors” to describe this sort of thing and I’m deeply disappointed that Congressman Ryan has backpedaled from his earlier and more ambitious proposals of a year ago to instead rely on the punchline to the old professionals-on-a-desert-island joke: “The economist says, ‘Assume a boat…‘”.

    So why don’t the Dems and Repubs all agree we’re going to have 12.5% annual GDP growth in 2014 with .5% inflation and oil selling at $29 a barrel and no foreign military deployments at all while they’re at it? I bet the numbers would look great if they did that.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Mr. Likko, why are the reductios hereabouts so absurd?

      Done properly, they make a point, not make the author seem unserious if not silly.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to tom van dyke
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        says:

        They are absurd because they are not actual spending cuts, only the illusion of cuts predicated upon unrealistic assumptions about future economic growth and future commitments, both military and social, to which the government will be held.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Burt Likko
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          says:

          Mr. Likko, are you saying that if Ryan’s budget were enacted, it wouldn’t make any real difference?

          I’m just so tired of these blanket dismissals—if not shoutdowns–of anything colored Team Red that it’s seldom worth reading anyone carefully anymore, since it’s all boilerplate. But you have proven to be a gentleman of worth, and I would not want to deny you your well-earned due.

          I’m open to yr arguments, and rather than play cat-and-mouse, some reservations:

          —A fella named Tom McClintock [now an R congressman] was the 3rd man in the CA recall race with Ahnold and some faceless D. His tactic was to freeze spending at then-current levels, and let the economy [and tax base] grow to catch up to a break-even point.

          This seemed and seems the most prudent and least radical approach, as a general philosophy. In fact, whatever left-handed praise Ryan’s getting hereabouts is in this vein.

          As for Defense Department spending, there’s no American consensus for that. If the Dems want that and believe they have a consensus for it, then they need to go on the record. Switching to yet another issue seems to me to be playing Three-Card Monte with Ryan’s proposal.

          [My customary complaint about the proceedings hereabouts—when the Dems are in the wrong, the issue is switched to something the GOP can be blamed for.]

          As a fan of gridlock, I consider anything that arrests the ballooning of gov’t spending as somewhat of a victory for sanity. Neither do I accept the presentation of President Obama as some sort of centrist or moderate: he got away with whatever he could, and the 2010 election was properly characterized as a “restraining order.”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke
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            says:

            Here’s my problem with Ryan’s budget.

            It does easy stuff for the first few years and *THEN* does the hard stuff. They can enact his plan and it’s toothless… and then, two years later, they can enact an *IDENTICAL PLAN* which will do nothing. And again. And again.

            A plan that doesn’t kick in for a couple of years ain’t a real plan.

            (See Congress’s Affordable Care Act.)Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to tom van dyke
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            says:

            Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Van Dyke. I want significant spending cuts, in all areas. As I wrote below, there should be no sacred cows.

            If we’re going to take the process of cutting spending seriously, as we should, then there need to be real cuts in defense, real cuts in social security, real cuts in medicare. Repealing Obamacare is not feasible today, but scaling it back potentially is, when confronted with the stark, cold reality of our financial situation. Unlike Portugal, the EU isn’t going to bail us out.

            Ryan made a good first step down this road last year with his “Roadmap to Solvency” or whatever it was called. It tacked entitlement reform, phasing it in slowly over two generations; it tacked defense spending, ratcheting it down. It had the U.S. government deficit-free by 2040 and free of all debt other than 1-year or shorter T-bills by 2075. His plan was not without flaws, including some still-too-sunny economic assumptions, especially projecting things sixty years into the future. But it was a coherent plan, one that earned the high praise of being sniffed at by Paul Krugman.

            So I had expected more from Ryan this time around. I fault Ryan for not being either ambitious or realistic enough with this proposal, particularly when he has shown that he possesses the ability to be both ambitious and realistic. I remain hopeful that he can return to form.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Burt Likko
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              says:

              This. In no small part, the main reason this proposal is so disappointing is precisely that its author is perhaps the only person with a vote that counts who actually gets where the decimals and commas are supposed to go. Yet even his proposal won’t meaningfully touch the categories of spending that are indisputably the drivers of the problem, relying instead on mostly unfounded assumptions that emphasizing federalism through block grants will inevitably reduce outlays. And maybe there are independent reasons to prefer such changes to the status quo (there definitely are), but I see no reason to assume that they would be any more likely to decrease outlays than increase them.

              As for there being no consensus on defense, you may well be right. But there is also no consensus on cutting the other major categories driving the long term deficit. If the problem is going to get solved or even meaningfully alleviated, there will need to be major cuts in areas where there is no consensus. That means someone needs to step forward and provide real leadership and take real risks. Ryan’s proposal last year fit that bill; this one only claims to.Report

              • Avatar kyle in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                True enough but the way things work still matter. Making Ryan chair of budget was a win-win for Ryan and the GOP. Having your chair produce a budget that won’t make it out of the committee he chairs is a lose-lose. Does anyone think a radical budget would make it to the floor?

                So it seems pretty clear the budget was as much about the politically feasible/useable as anything else and given those restraints, little is surprising. Though, the potential changes to Medicaid stand out as being harsh but actually helpful. In any case, I think the budget plan may be look better compared to the deadlocked incrementalism Congress normally operates on, rather than the bold and harmonious Congress that rarely, if ever, exists.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to kyle
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                says:

                The thing is that this is still a very radical budget. It’s just radical in an entirely different way from Ryan’s plan last year. I’m actually not all that convinced that his plan last year wouldn’t have made it out of committee this year. No matter what, his resolution was and is just going to be a first offer, intended to demonstrate seriousness and force the Dems to get serious about the deficit themselves.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                I’m not convinced Ryan’s plan is a first offer or attempt to push D’s. Ryan is a True Believer and pretty hardcore Rand fan. His budget didn’t touch any R priorities or cherished beliefs while seems to have gone after every D priority. I’m not seeing where he has ever been willing or open to negation.

                One part of this plan that doesn’t seem to have gotten much traction is his health care reform will toss tens of millions off of insurance. Leaving aside fairness or anything resembling morality ( at least that doesn’t suit Ryan) in what psychotic world view does he think D’s will ever go there.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak
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                says:

                I don’t think a first offer needs to, or even necessarily should, contain concessions to the other side. It’s quite often a shoot the moon proposal to establish the limits of discussion.

                But there’s still such a thing as a crappy and worthless first offer. This is that. Why? Because it’s not a first offer on resolving the deficit crisis, but instead a first offer on resolving the problem of the government being insufficiently aligned with conservative values. It ultimately doesn’t even attempt to address the former issue at in any meaningful fashion, even though it claims to, and even though that is the issue that must be resolved. In fact, now that the CBO has scored it with far more reasonable assumptions, it appears Ryan’s proposal would actually wind up increasing the deficit.

                For the Dems to make a counteroffer within these parameters would be to acknowledge that the problem at hand is that the government is insufficiently conservative. They have no responsibility to do so, and to the extent the public understands that this is the “problem” Ryan’s budget seeks to resolve, should not face any pressure to do so.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                You touch on this at various other points but I did mean radical w/r/t tackling the deficit, which this is not. Precisely because if a plan to radically tackle the deficit was possible without alienating potential donors/supporters, somebody would be out stumping on it.

                Which is to say/underscore that this is a (so far a well played) political maneuver with a dash of fiscal restraint more than anything else.

                Cries of unfair, draconian, implausible, impossible are beside the point. The Ryan plan is “a Serious plan to tackle the deficit.” So now the Democrats are going to need an alternative and they only way to do that is to become the party of defense cuts during a wary, the party of tax increases, or the party of the deficit/debt is not a big deal.

                Color me cynical but talking about the Ryan budget proposal as if it were say a budget proposal seems kind of beside the point. (weeps for America)Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Mark, you’ve made a big noise since coming back about your support for a strong safety net. It seems to me that the variety in approach that is the recommending characteristic of federalism is to some extent an obstacle to the implementation of strong safety nets, if we understand those to be ones that are there for all Americans, regardless of the the politics of one’s state. I agree with you about strong safety nets, and I also value federalism, but I don’t necessarily see safety nets as an area where my attachment to federalism extends to. A safety net with holes isn’t safe. I wonder if you’d be interested in expanding on your view of how these two themes interact.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Michael Drew
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                says:

                I haven’t given it a ton of thought, to be honest, and if push came to shove I’m not entirely sure that I wouldn’t wind up on the same side of the fence as you. IOW, I suspect the drawbacks would likely outweigh the (largely ideological and philosophical) benefits. But I think the general benefits of federalism still exist to some degree in the sense of permitting experimentation and thus allowing the innovation of better systems than we currently have. The bigger and more likely benefit of it to me is probably just the political reality that the US on aggregate demands gratitude and obligation from beneficiaries. This seems to be firmly entrenched on the national level. But some individual state cultures may well be exceptions.

                As I said, I haven’t given this a ton of thought, so YMMV.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                Just to be clear, that was in no way intended as a challenge to your views — I also feel an affinity to the logic of federalism, even as a utilitarian mechanism, especially in our context where the political culture is so pre-established to offer a structure perfect for its experimental benefits to bear fruit. But like you, I just haven’t thoroughly through through the sorting and balancing I need to do in the areas where I’m not sure I’m inclined to let a full faith in the idea govern my view on the government’s approach to provision of services. I just meant to query about/spur you to discuss any thinking you’d done on the question.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to tom van dyke
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        says:

        “Done properly, they make a point, not make the author seem unserious if not silly.”

        Please go back and read what Mark wrote.Report

  2. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    I think that this is the main credible criticism of Ryan’s budget. Not that it’s radical*, but that it’s illusory. Particularly the unemployment numbers he’s counting on.

    * – Which is not to say that it isn’t radical, but nearly any substantive solution is going to seem radical because it’s a solution to a radical problem.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Trumwill
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      says:

      Paul Ryan is the only man in Washington with the proper number of zeroes in his proposals.

      This gov’t shutdown is going to be about whether the cuts—if they are indeed all cuts atall and not merely freezing or slowing the rates of increase—are going to be $30-odd billion or 40. In this way, the left has already won. The rest is indeed political theatre about their sacred cows, Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke
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        says:

        The first zero in that proposal is the odds of its passage.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          The journey of 1000 miles, BlaiseP. Rep. Ryan is leading the nation on this at the moment, and not with mere slapdash rhetoric or demagoguery.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke
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            says:

            Oh, it’s a far braver proposal than anything else on the table. The problem is, it’s not brave enough. Ryan’s got principles, no doubt. Just don’t expect the old GOP bulls to let this survive. They have far too much to lose.

            There is one good thing about Ryan’s proposal: it gives that mendacious old flimflam artiste John Boehner a good kick in the ass.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
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              says:

              Boehner is par for the course. Let’s not compare the size of our respective flaccidities, say Harry Reid and John Kerry or for God’s sake Speaker Pelosi.

              [Hmmm. Deans-of-the-Senate McCain vs. Kerry would have been an interesting one, come to think of it. Ecch.]

              As you know, BP, I’m not much for reasoning from low to high—your worst are worse than our worst!—proves nothing.

              Pecker checks should be done with each side at its biggest, brightest, tallest and proudest!

              [OK, OK, Ryan’s the biggest dick of all. Lemme save you the trouble of typing that one.]

              ;-}Report

            • Avatar Boonton in reply to BlaiseP
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              says:

              I don’t think its very brave. The ‘hard stuff’ is placed ten years out and lives in a fantasy world of massive tax cuts combined with assumptions that unemployment would be 2.8% or lower. In that alternative universe cutting food stamps probably wouldn’t be so hard and even Medicare cuts might not hurt so much (everyone’s kids will be rich and will be happy to share their massive tax cuts with grandma).

              In terms of Medicare, it’s cuts are very dishonest relative to the obama plan. At least the cuts are clear with Obama, the advisory board will identify things to stop covering based first trying to find things that do not improve actual outcomes. Congress gives the findings an up or down vote.

              Ryan’s plan tries to obscure the cuts. Why does Medicare not cover something in Ryan’s world? Maybe because the vouchers are set too low? Maybe because you choose the wrong plan? Maybe because the insurance companies aren’t offering the ‘right’ plans? Who knows but Medicare instead of being a safety net turns into a casino of winners and loosers. You’ll get some people enjoying ‘added benefits’ like dental coverage an alternative therapies like accpuncture while others are being told a fourth round of chemo is just ‘too much’ to be covered. ….which is what they wanted to do with Social Security. Set people against each other in their own version of class warefare.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Boonton
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                says:

                While all you say is true, I have a different theory of negotiation. In my line of work, software consulting, my clients have a perverse urge to save what they have hired me to replace. Institutional memory is incredibly long: given a few days of investigation, I can find the people who were around when the old system was designed and built. They remember all the compromises made back in the day. They had to live with those consequences for many years.

                Entire departments grew up around those compromises. The urge to save the old system can be tempered with the understanding the old system was never as good as all that. I spend a good deal of money on steaks and sushi and liquor in order to extract these admissions: the ROI on food and booze is very high.

                No system, however good, achieves perfect congruence with the intended process. It is possible to elucidate what perfect congruence might resemble in both politics and software. In Ryan’s proposal, we are given what the GOP thinks it wants: be it ever so fluffy and wrongheaded, say what you will about it, feelings are never congruent with facts. The fluffiness in Ryan’s plan may be said to obscure underlying doubts and obvious defects, but we should not interpret this as a working specification document. It’s a wish list.

                The GOP will eventually come to terms with changing the tax code in light of income statistics. They understand, eventually taxes must hit the wealthiest harder than they do at present. If they lack the political will to do so, we who advocate such changes ought to be more understanding, for the Democrats flinched while they held majorities across the board and did not pass a meaningful budget. The Democrats threw together eleven chunks of legislation into yet another disgraceful omnibus spending bill, knowing it was no real budget.

                Meaningful legislation always carries a political price tag, a price few politicians are willing to pay. The Obama Deficit Commission was and is an attempt to put some daylight between who’s offering the proposals and who must act on them: the Deficit Commission also postponed it more draconian cuts. The GOP lacks any such blue ribbon commission powers, Ryan’s plan was the best they could put forward at present. If Ryan’s plan is fluffier, it’s not surprising: that we got a plan at all is a matter of timing. Elections aren’t until 2012.Report

  3. Avatar 62across
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    says:

    Cuts to Defense are limited to a net of $78 billion spread over five years, or $17 billion a year for five years. After that – no cuts whatsoever to defense.

    You could have stopped there and made the point that the Ryan proposal was not serious. The country CAN NOT resolve it’s fiscal issues without deep cuts to defense.Report

  4. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    I think you gotta trim a bit here and there or the unwashed are going to go wobbly. Next time go for three or four hundred billion, next time seven or eight hundred billion, and so forth. In a couple of years you’re talking about significant cuts that citizen/taxpayers can go along with. You’ve got to realize we have a mass of citizens, some of whom comment here, who are a part of the problem. The trick is to make them part of the solution, and the solution is the realization that other people’s money doesn’t last forever, and it was never a good idea to make whores out of citizens. Go after corporate welfare, the military, social security, medicare, medicade…all of it. Reduce the bureaucracy, limit the general gummint.Report

  5. Avatar North
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    says:

    Mark, I haven’t read it myself, alas. My paying job (quite unrelated to politics alas) is wild at the moment so I have confined myself to reading summaries. As the days are passing on and the criticisms are getting more focused and more concrete I’m certainly swaying off my original assumption. This is saddening, since I really think we could use someone screaming for genuine cute, but also somewhat reassuring since I was honestly wondering if the GOP and TP were actually changing their spots.

    But I still think that, serious or no, Obama and the Dems desperately needs to issue their own plan in the next few weeks. If for no other reason than to demonstrate the unseriousness of the Ryan one.Report

  6. Avatar North
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    says:

    *Update* Bruce Bartlett just laughed Ryan’s budget out of the house. I’m now convinced that it wasn’t a credible offer. A pity.Report

  7. Avatar libarbarian
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    says:

    I think Ryans plan is a Fraud on another, simpler, level as well.

    Ryans “Plan” is just another “plan” that dumps all the sacrifice on some people while exempting others completely. There is no shared sacrifice at all. The BEST he claims is that the Tax-cuts for the wealthy is revenue neutral: aka. “Heads you lose, Tails I break even.” A worst he is wrong and it will actually profit the wealthy while costing the rest of us: “Heads I win, Tails you lose”.

    As such, it is a non-starter.

    Why on earth would anyone EVER not accept any plan, regardless of how provably effective it might be, that dumps all the sacrifice on themselves? I don’t know about you all, but if I am going to go down anyways I want to at least take my enemy down with me. If the wealthy want to drive us into the poor house, then we can at least make sure they end up there as well. I am NOT going to pauperize myself to save my country only so it can continue to be looted for the profit of the very people who drive me into the poorhouse.

    It’s like we’re on a boat sinking under it’s weight and Ryan is saying “We have to lighten the weight! You all have to throw your possessions overboard or we will sink. Thankfully, that will free up enough weight to keep us afloat and let me keep my stuff as well. Now, get to it!”.

    My answer is simple. “I hope you know how to swim”Report

  8. Avatar libarbarian
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    says:

    I meant “accept” not “not accept”Report

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