Paul Ryan Strikes Again: The Reihan Salam Edition


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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49 Responses

  1. The major error here is calling Salam a “right-wing pundit”. He isn’t. He’s a Republican operative, and that turns out to be very different. A brilliant mind dedicated to spreading conservative ideas might be wrong, but it would maintain the capacity to surprise or enlighten. A brilliant mind dedicated to defending and promoting the positions of a political party without any reference to their inherent merit is plainly evil.Report

  2. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I don’t find that to be the case with Salam.

    When I’ve read his blog or seen him appear on Chris Hayes’ show he certainly aligns himself politically with policy thinkers on the right, but at the same time doesn’t ALWAYS craft his position to fit the current Republican talking point.

    There are a handful of issues on which it’s clear he’s following the data in good faith, not his party, as demonstrated by the fact that he ends up disagreeing with them in those instances.Report

  3. Avatar Katherine says:

    It amazes me that a man can be considered a fiscal conservative when he champions tax cuts for the wealthy in a country where 1) the wealthy have seen their taxes cut substantially already, 2) there is serious and rising inequality and 3) the national debt is at or approaching 100% of GDP.  That’s certainly radical, but more to the point, it’s overwhelmingly irresponsible.  The Democrats are willing to tackle both taxes and spending (spending across-the-board, not just civilian spending) to balance the budget; meanwhile, the Republicans claim it’s a “serious” proposal to present a budget that decreases taxes and increases military spending.  It’s not.  It’s fantasy.

    Reihan does seem, in my estimation, to be a lot more civil than your average right-wing pundit, but that doesn’t make his arguments any better.  The one about cutting social spending not actually hurting the poor because states can, if they so choose, correspondingly raise their spending, is manifestly disingenuous, unless you’re proposing to give transfers to the states for such spending.  And the hope of economic improvement bringing poverty reduction in the future doesn’t warrant slashing social spending now; you’d have to actually show that poverty is decreasing, and for reasons that are not linked to social spending, in order to justify that, not just say “it’s okay because we hope things will get better”.Report

    • What’s more, as this recent Times piece makes clear, giving the states money and hoping they’ll do the right thing is a recipe for godawful results.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        It’s basically the Canadian system – the BNA act gave the federal government extensive taxation powers, while responsibilities that were given to the provinces (health and education, to name two) got a lot more expensive than would have been expected circa 1867.  So the feds transfer large amounts of money to the provinces so the provinces can fulfill their responsibilites.  About 20% of the total federal budget gets sent to the provinces, most of it for health, education, and social programs (which shows it’s good to have some general specifications on use).  It might work badly in the States, but it’s not a disaster here.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          “It might work badly in the States, but it’s not a disaster here.”

          The problem that Elias refers to, and the problem with state/federal sharing of responsibilities and funding on social programs more generally, is how things work in recessions (caveat: I was a state budget analyst for three years, I tend to think in terms of the cash flows).  TANF, the current version of federal “welfare” funding, is a fixed-size block grant.  When the economy plunges, so do state revenues, at the same time that there are more people demanding assistance of various sorts.  Same thing generally happens in Medicaid, although instead of a fixed-size grant, it’s a fixed-size percentage of the costs that are picked up by the feds (during the recent recession, the feds did temporarily pick up a larger share).  State operating budgets are, with only one exception that I know of, required to be balanced every year.  State and local governments have reached the political limits on their ability to raise revenue, in a pretty narrow range around 10% of state GDP.  This combination — revenue limits, balanced budget requirements, and counter-cyclical spending programs such as Medicaid — is a disaster for state budgets during recessions.  The faster-than-GDP growth of big programs like Medicaid and education will be a long-term budget disaster for the states, even outside of recessions.  It is not surprising that during the last decade, several states have looked seriously at the consequences of withdrawing from the Medicaid program.

          For me, the real surprising line in the Salam quotes is: “Another view is that Ryan believes that as the U.S. grows more affluent, a larger share of total expenditures on education, food, and transportation infrastructure should be paid for by some combination of the private sector and state and local governments drawing on their own resources.”  Surprising because the place where the demand that states pay their own way would hit hardest is in the red states of the Deep South that form the regional core of today’s Republican Party.  Medicaid is by far the largest assistance program for the poor (in terms of budget), and in those Deep South states the federal government picks up a much larger share of the costs.  There’s no way that a Mississippi or a Kentucky comes up with the revenue to fill the gap if the federal government reduced its share to the same 50% that it picks up in New Jersey, Illinois, Colorado, or California.  The only state where I’ve looked at the dollar amounts involved is Texas; if the feds picked up only 50% of Texas’ costs, Texas would have to come up with about another billion dollars per year to plug the hole.

          It appears to me that the National Republican Party in general, and the Congressional Republicans in particular, have become isolated from their states.  A Congressional Republican can say, “Cut Medicaid spending by 10%” and doesn’t have to worry about the details.  It’s up to the Republicans in the legislatures in those red states to determine how to implement that cut.  Congress doesn’t worry about whether to cut nursing homes, prenatal care for poor pregnant women, or care for those with serious developmental disabilities; the state legislators are the ones whose phones ring non-stop when they propose making cuts to any of those areas.  A Congressional Republican can say (or a conservative pundit can interpret that Congressional Republican as saying) that states will have to do more on their own.  But I really wonder if the Congressional Republican realizes that there’s a good chance their state receives a disproportionate share of the federal assistance, and how hard their state will be hit.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Excellent comment, MC.

            But I really wonder if the Congressional Republican realizes that there’s a good chance their state receives a disproportionate share of the federal assistance, and how hard their state will be hit.

            I wonder about that too. I’m not sure the answer reflects well on them either way. I also wonder to what degree the relevant constituencies understand that they’re the beneficiaries of federal largess, and to what degree they’ve been (mistakenly?) led to believe they’ll be insulated from the squeeze if policies like the Ryan Plan are ever implemented.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      its not just we hope things will get better. Its that cutting all these taxes will trigger a massive jump in growth rate which will eventually benefit the worst off. I haven’t read Paul Ryan’s plan, but Salam characterises it as a defined contribution scheme. If that is the case, then it would not be unreasonable to expect greater improvements to the well-being of the worst off with less spending. I don’t know how themargins exactly are in the US, but if the current incentives are sufficiently bad, such a radical change to the incentive structure can work wonders. There is a part of me, however, that wonders about whether people will adjust if the change is too sudden.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        It sounds to me like he’s proposing a market solution for addressing many of the complaints about Medicare Part D.
        Personally, I advocate supplemental insurance and a very, very restricted and basic form of health insurance at the national level. I would like to see a cap of $2000 per year on prescription coverage per person.
        We need to do something to address the increase in the rate of costs for health care spending.Report

        • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

          Why a cap of $2,000 / yr on prescriptions?    So cancer patients will die?Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            No. I’m thinking they could come up with something somewhere.
            As an alternative, figure out what your car payment is every year, and we can go with that number.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        its not just we hope things will get better. Its that cutting all these taxes will trigger a massive jump in growth rate which will eventually benefit the worst off. 

        Yes, but that’s not based on actual data.  Cutting taxes for the rich doesn’t benefit the worse-off, or increase revenues – refer to the last 30 years of US history.  Nor does it necessarily increase growth.  Conversely, Clinton raised taxes and his period in office saw great growth.  So it really does just boil down to “we hope things will get better if we do this”.  And no budget is going to immediately trigger sharp changes in growth – even the conservative position generally holds that fiscal policy is a slow and blunt instrument for growth and monetary policy works a lot faster.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Yes, but that’s not based on actual data… So it really does just boil down to “we hope things will get better if we do this”.

          No it doesn’t. Let us supposed that you are right. They’ve got the economics wrong.(at least at the marigns that actually obtain in the US. The marginal tax increase, everything else being equal hurts the worst off. While the marginal dollar added to social outlays to the poor benefits the worst off. The task is to stop at the point where increasing the tax further causes more harm than the concommitant increase in social outlays. ) All that means is that one of their arguments is faulty because it relies on bad/ no data. “We hope things will get better” mischaracterises the nature of their argument. Rather, they are making the quite different argument that they are on one side of the curve rather than the other.Report

          • Ryan’s making an ideological argument that is not supported by data — and one that he doesn’t especially try to support with data. That’s Katherine’s point. Ryan makes ideological, value-based arguments but ineptly tries to disguise them with pseudo technocratic language — that’s the problem with his pitch, and it’s why he’s a dishonest actor. Quibbling over whether or not this dogmatism is equivalent to “hoping” things get better is a distraction.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Considering that the US revenues and rates are at lows not seen since the fourties, Murali, I dare say anyone saying we’re on that side of the cost curve has a heck of a lot of arguing and convincing to do.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      It’s not quite as simple as that.
      I began working in Illinois just in time to see the state income tax rate go up from 3% to 5%. The bulk of that went to maintain social spending. There are things that I enjoy, such as the rail subsidies, which is why I chose to live where I am.
      Neighboring Missouri (think St. Louis) has a tax rate of 6%, after the 3000 non-taxable, and the 3% rate on the first 6000 of taxable income. In Illinois, it’s a lot more straight-forward; if they say “5%,” they pretty much mean “5%.”
      So, yes, states can and do adjust their tax rates to accommodate prevailing conditions.
      Food stamps and unemployment compensation are determined by the states; both the amount and the requirements. For example, in Missouri, a person is eligible to receive food stamps for either 6 months or a year, and can only be eligible three times within their lifetime. Milwaukee has historically gained an influx of residents from Chicago for purposes of claiming higher benefits.
      Economic conditions vary greatly from one state to another, and even within the state. It’s cheaper to live in Mt. Vernon than Chicago, and it’s cheaper to live in El Campo than Houston– any of which would be cheaper to live than in most places in New York, New Jersey, or California.
      Taxation is a tricky issue in itself. In New Hampshire, there is no state income tax, but the property taxes are outrageous. In Corpus Christi, a garage is considered to be a part of the dwelling, and is taxed as such, and so you see a lot of carports there.
      The idea of increased taxation at the state level while decreasing at the national level is not new.
      I don’t care to advocate any specific position; I just want to point out that the idea is not unworkable, and that there are a variety of methods for achieving the same aims.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        So, yes, states can and do adjust their tax rates to accommodate prevailing conditions.

        Never said they didn’t, just that there’s no guarantee, not even an implicit one, that cutting federal social spending will lead the states to make up the slack or to increase taxes.  Some might decide to, some might decide not to.  State tax systems are already regressive, in contrast to the federal ones, so it’s extremely unlikely that just leaving things up to the states would increase the well-being of the poor.

        You can’t just assume things are going to work out all right.  That’s wishful thinking, not fiscal policy.


        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          State tax systems are already regressive, in contrast to the federal ones

          This is an artifact of consumption smoothing.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            Actually, property taxes specifically could be regressive. But sales taxes are definitely progressive in the long run.Report

  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Meanwhile, the “Obama Budget” was voted down by the House 414-0.  It’s said in politics you can’t beat something with nothing, but it appears President Obama is going to give it a whack.


    • Avatar greginak says:

      Wow…what a defence of the Ryan budget.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      In fairness Tom there’s no surprise politically that Obama has no budget. It’s filibustered if it’s presented in the Senate and voted down in the House; unanimously of course, no one wants to vote for a failed budget (then you get blamed for the bad stuff in it AND tained by your association with failed legislation).

      That’s not to say Obama’s been particularily couragous on the budget front. His budgets, as he proposes them, are blatantly geared towards not damaging the economic recovery according to conventional economic thought. He dodges unpleasant cuts and increases and generally is trying to just muddle along. Ryans’ budget is a similar beast; just written to please righties instead of lefties.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Mr. North, the president is playing Immovable Object, and does nothing but attack.  This isn’t leadership; it’s more a cynical politics to the point of being dereliction of duty.

        The common meme [Obama’s at that*], that Reagan “raised taxes” is a lie.  Tip O’Neill, the Democrat House spearker, did.  Reagan agreed to it to get a deal done, because that’s the president’s job, to lead, not attack.

        And damn right I’m not going to “defend” the Ryan budget, Mr. Gregniak.  That’s falling into BHO’s asymmetrical game, where instead of two competing ideas, there’s only one, and it’s demagogued against.  While the entire Western EuroState world is on the brink of fiscal disaster but is trying to pull back from it, BHO is doubling down.

        *”Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control — that for him to make a deal — he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases…”

        “He could not get through a Republican primary today.”

        No, the real irony is that a Bill Clinton, a fiscally responsibly sort, would probably get demagogued out of the box by you or someone like you, Mr. President.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:


          the president is playing Immovable Object, and does nothing but attack.  This isn’t leadership; it’s more a cynical politics to the point of being dereliction of duty.

          I don’t see how the President can do much besides play immovable object.  The Republicans in Congress have been playing irresistible force, so what are the President’s real options? (Actually, the funny thing is that Obama came into office claiming the role of irresistible force, and Congressional Republicans turned out to be the immovable object.)

          The common meme [Obama’s at that*], that Reagan “raised taxes” is a lie.  Tip O’Neill, the Democrat House spearker, did.  Reagan agreed to it to get a deal done, because that’s the president’s job, to lead, not attack.

          That sounds a lot more like following than leading.  And, by the way, you seem to be ignoring all the compromises Obama made with the Republicans to get budget deals done–why does Reagan get credit and not Obama?Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            It’s the president’s job to pass a budget.  414-0 ain’t getting it done.

            Mebbe the American people will buy his excuses in November, mebbe not.  As Dennis Miller says, Romney should just put a debt clock on the podium and not say a word.  This president is unserious about fiscal sanity, preferring demagoguery like “social darwinism.”  mebbe it’ll work, but I hope not.  We need a serious president.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I wish I had the ability to view the world so devoid of context as you are able. It would make things soooooo much simpler. I’d be wrong all the time, without fail, but that’s obviously not an impediment to survival, as you’ve well demonstrated.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              It’s the president’s job to pass a budget.  414-0 ain’t getting it done.

              I don’t understand this. First of all, Obama did get a budget passed (as did Reagan), by making compromises (as did Reagan).  So what’s the difference there?  Is the problem that Reagan got more Democratic votes than Obama got Republican votes? If so, how do we know that’s the president’s fault and not the other party that’s being recalcitrant? (Remember, Reagan had conservative southern Dems to work with, and the GOP as a whole has moved rightward since the ’80s.)

              Second, what’s with the 414-0 business? First, The FY2011 budget passed 260-167 in the House and 81-19 in the Senate.  Second, there are only 295 Democrats in Congress out of 535 total legislators, so 414 would mean Obama was getting a deal with over 100 Republicans signing on. So clearly you can’t be talking about winning wtih just Dem votes.  I just don’t get what you’re saying.

              As to the debt clock issue, I agree Obama is not serious about it, but the majority of Republicans have not shown they’re serious about it, either, since they place the Bush tax cuts above a balanced budget.  So why do you focus all your criticism on Obama?

              As I’ve said previously, TVD, while you’ve always been conservative, I’ve never seen you play such a Team Red/Team blue game before.  This is a really recent innovation in your writing, and you haven’t really clarified your reasons on your virulent anti-Obamaism yet.  Is it all a consequence of the Catholic hospitals/insurance thing, or is there more to it than that?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Republicans got the House to vote on Obama’s 2013 budget, knowing that Democrats would have to vote “no” as they were in the process of negotiating their own version of it. It was a charade, and I’m sure Tom knows this. The Democrats have their own version now, but this is not something Tom wants to talk about. Tom is doing that 99 thing again, but it’s so obvious this time that I don’t think it needs to be pointed out.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The GOP brought up Obama’s FY2013 budget using just the top-line spending and revenue numbers, not the actual budget.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Ah, thanks Chris and Jesse.  I don’t pay that much attention to day-to-day politics like that since it’s all so meaningless, so I sometimes miss specific meaningless events.Report

              • Avatar Katherine says:

                Agreed, thanks for the explanation.  Tom, it would be nice if you could actually trouble yourself to discuss policy instead of devoting your commentary to irrelevant Republican talking points.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                James, the Dem Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 1000+ days.  Help me out on the facts end, anyway.  i have my hands full enough without remidiating every fact.  And yes, the “Obama Budget” came up for a vote recently and the Dems refused to vote for it too.  414-0 was the final total.

                [My googling skills seem to fail me.  I cannot found the 414-0 in the NYT, the WaPo or anywhere except the AP (fortunately).  Perhaps it slipped in between the cracks of the reputable sources gentlepersons of the left frequent.

                And yes, I appreciate you’re self-described as a non-lefty.  And I appreciate you giving me credit for not being a blatant Team Red guy in discussion.  So it’s like this, and I’ve been contemplating this reply as I was out and about:

                You don’t have to be on the same team to admit the other guy’s good.  I didn’t vote for him, but I wasn’t crestfallen when Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole.  I wasn’t terribly sad when he beat Bush41 [I meself had gone for Dukakis in ’88].

                I can’t say that about Barack Obama.  There’s not a presidential bone in his body, nor a non-political one.  When Bill Clinton talked shit, the beauty of it is that he didn’t mean it.  He knew it, we knew it.

                But when Barack Obama talks shit, he believes it.  And so do his fans.  He has us at each other’s throats.

                Paul Ryan doesn’t have us at each other’s throats.  Nor John Boehner.  Not even Harry Reid has us at each other’s throats.  And I’ve supported Mitt Romney from the first because he doesn’t either.

                From my side of the aisle, the Obama presidency has been a nightmare.  Not for the politics: the election of 2010 put a stop to BHO’s agenda.  It’s been a nightmare because I oppose democracy, that is to say, I oppose majoritarianism, where 51% rule the other 49.  That’s how it’s been from Day One with this guy.  I would oppose a President Santorum for the same reason: even if he were to win [impossible], his agenda would still only have the barest of majorities in support.

                That is not what any of us signed up for, as citizens by birth or naturalization.  We’re signed up for a constitutional republic.  When President Obama explicitly circumvents Congress, when he picks a fight with the Supreme Court [twice now], this is not what I want from a president, and neither should any of us.

                And no, James, it’s not the Catholic/contraception thing, exactly, although it’s emblematic: this guy provokes constitutional crises with stunning regularity.  For example, circumventing Congress on the Libya thing wasn’t right.  The recess appointments.


                I don’t want this.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, the Senate hasn’t passed a thing called a budget. But, somehow, the federal government is funded for FY2012. And me and Chris explained above why every Democrat voted against Obama’s FY 2012 “budget.”Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I find it difficult to take a post like this seriously. It’s Obama that’s divisive? Not the GOP that has, from day one acted as if they were a parliamentary minority party? My guess is honestly if this were the 90s you’d be calling for Clinton’s impeachment.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                In twenty years, TVD or some version of him will be on some other site, saying, “I wasn’t crestfallen when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney. But, the difference is, Obama didn’t believe what he was saying. Julie Sanchez-Chu does.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I’m no fan of Obama, either, and I agree with you that he believes his own talk too much.  I get the sense that he inhales a scent of roses and honeysuckle when he takes a shit. I despise the fact that each time I hear him talk I get the sense he’s talking down to all of us in an offensively paternalistic tone.

                But I think it’s far too much of a stretch to say he’s the ultra divisive one, and nobody on the other side. I mean, I seriously just can’t fathom that claim, and I honestly think you’ve lost all sense of proportion when it comes to Obama.Report

        • Avatar b-psycho says:

          The common meme [Obama’s at that*], that Reagan “raised taxes” is a lie. Tip O’Neill, the Democrat House spearker, did. Reagan agreed to it to get a deal done, because that’s the president’s job, to lead, not attack.

          If he didn’t want to raise taxes but let it happen anyway because the House wanted it, where’d the leading come into play? President can veto, after all.

          (This isn’t to say I have a dog in the current budget fight. It’s all nonsense vs nonsense to me.)Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Getting the budget passed was leadership.  And brinksmanship is fine, don’t get me wrong: Clinton beat Gingrich on the optics of the government shutdown, but in the end, he had to come to poppa.Report

  5. Avatar Scott says:

    Meanwhile Geithner admits to the senate’s budget comm, that Barry’s budget is not sustainable but they just can’t cut anything. And these folks have the nerve to bash Ryan?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Sure they do.   Paul Ryan’s just a silly man.   Full of bravado and fine talk but his entire premise rests on closing loopholes which shall never, ever be closed, not while the Sacred Cow Ranch won’t put any of those heifers on the truck to market.   See Tom’s comment at 11 for why this is so:  you can’t beat something with nothing.Report

  6. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Reihan Salam is, best as I can tell, the smartest right-wing pundit of his generation.

    First, Cheney’s heart transplant and now this.  So many straight lines, so little time.Report

  7. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    it’s tricky to turn a radical wealth distribution plan into “something that benefits everyone”.  this is why supporters of the zombie eyed granny starver’s (charles pierce cracks me up) brave, serious and bold “budget” have to ascribe views to ryan that he doesn’t hold.  like when jimbo stewart at NY Times says that ryan’s plan (lowering top rates to 25 and 10 percent) “could” end up increasing taxes on the wealthy because it is unclear what would happen in ryan’s plan to the capital gains rate.  i understand how jimbo could get confused as ryan’s plan omits a lot of important details.  however, if you look at the god damned roadmap ryan put out it says, “Promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends; also eliminates the death tax.”

    but as will wilkinson points out, “he’s quite the looker” so we should prolly ignore this.Report