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Paul Ryan and the Beast That Didn’t Starve

John Boehner & The Rock of Sisyphus

Paul Ryan will be retiring after this session of Congress. The former Vice Presidential Candidate and current Speaker of the House shot to fame during the Obama Administration for his touting of conservative fiscal policy and government reform. Many things will be written about his legacy, but one of the first shots across the bow comes from Ezra Klein:

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in just one number: $343 billion.

That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018 — that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.

If the economy had fallen into recession between 2015 and 2018, Ryan’s record would be understandable. But it didn’t. In fact, growth quickened and the labor market tightened — which means deficits should’ve fallen. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in each of the five years preceding Ryan’s speakership; from 2011 to 2015, annual deficits fell each year.

As he prepares to leave office, Ryan says that debt reduction is one of those things “I wish we could have gotten done.” Ryan, the man with the single most power over the federal budget in recent years, sounds like a bystander, as if he watched laws happen rather than made them happen.

Klein goes point by point at how bad Ryan’s fiscal legacy is, and I can not but agree. Under Paul Ryan, we have seen the federal deficit swell during an economic boom. That’s not what’s supposed to happen, whether you believe in Keynesian economics, Austrian School economics or upside down pineapple cake economics.

Now I know you’re thinking, “Duh, tax cuts”. And that has played a role. But it’s dwarfed by the massive spending increases we have had. When Ryan took over as Speaker, the Republicans and President Obama had engineered a hard-fought fiscal sanity. Taxes went up, yes, but the big driver was spending discipline. During Obama’s presidency, federal spending increased, on average, 1.6% per year, one of the lowest sustained rates of spending growth in the last half century. By FY 2016, spending was several hundred billion lower than had been projected in 2009. There were many reasons for this: healthcare spending was less than expected, our wars ramped down, the economy recovered, the stimulus spending and anti-recession spending faded. But a large part was the sequester — the much-hated rule that forced Congress to keep spending under control. Under the so-called “surrender Caucus” — the House under Boehner that supposedly gave Barack Obama everything he wanted — federal spending was basically flat.

Paul Ryan became Speaker in October of 2015. In FY 2015, spending had increased by 5%. Federal spending has increased over 20% since then, soaring by nearly $800 billion, given FY 2019 estimates (which are almost certainly low). The Trump tax cut has hurt — to the tune of $100-200 billion a year. But it is peanuts compared to the spending. Hell, Congress just passed a gigantic bloated farm bill that no one even talked about.

At one time, I was a big fan of Paul Ryan. He had a Reagan-esque way of explaining complex concepts so that people could understand them. And he did lay out fiscal plans that brought the budget back into balance. But I was fooled. Ryan’s plans always had one important feature: immediate tax cuts followed by spending cuts — mostly from entitlement reform — down the road. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was falling for the “Starve the Beast” theory of fiscal policy.

“Starve the Beast” refers to the idea that, to limit government spending, we should limit government revenue. As it turns out, cutting government spending is hard. It’s hard because the government doesn’t have a Federal Dog Beating Program or a National Book Burning Agency. Almost every program in the government has noble intentions, supposedly.

Moreover, government programs have concentrated gain and diffuse costs. The number of people who are supported by a government program is generally small but that funding is critical to them. The costs, by contrast, are spread out over 300 million people. The cost of any program outside the big ones like Medicare is small to the individual taxpayer. So what happens is that when Congress tries to eliminate programs that are wasteful, rife with abuse or just plain don’t work, they run into a firewall of opposition. Suddenly, the news is filled with weeping employees talking about how the mean nasty Congress wants to stop their (completely ineffective) program teaching poor children to read that costs the average taxpayer ten cents a year.

That’s where “Starve the Beast” comes in, at least in theory. The idea is that we should cut taxes first, like cutting the allowance of an unruly child. That will then force Congress to make the hard choices. It’s a good theory. There’s only one real problem with it:

It’s complete garbage.

First, there is no unruly child in this scenario. Congress is not trying to force some mysterious unknown entity to cut spending. They are trying to force spending restraint on themselves. Seen in that light, cutting taxes to try to force spending cuts is like eating a slice of cheesecake to force yourself to go to the gym. It’s giving yourself the satisfying bit of the deal before you do the hard work. Everyone who has tried to lose weight knows how that tends to work out.

Second, what we’ve discovered after four decades of trying to Starve the Beast isn’t that Congress can’t tolerate enormous debt; it’s that they can. It turns out that Congress has no problem racking up massive piles of debt because, as President Trump said recently, by the time it becomes a problem, they won’t be here.

Third, and most importantly, cutting taxes doesn’t make spending cuts easier; it makes them harder. Because suddenly, people are getting government cheap. Who doesn’t want a government program if no one has to pay for it? Who doesn’t want a tax cut if government services will be unaffected? Government spending should hurt. It should hurt right in the wallet. If the taxpayers want free healthcare or more education spending or a war or anything, they should have to see their taxes go up. And, on the flip side, tax cuts should hurt to. If people want a tax cut, they should see some government programs vanish.

(This reflects off of last week’s post about how Democrats are being coy about mechanisms to pay for Medicare for All because they know the big tax increases will be unpopular. You’ll find this pattern a lot — Policy X is popular, until it is married to payment scheme Y. Last week, a poll showed that support for Federal Paid Leave is at 74% … unless they’re told that it might mean slower salary increases, at which point support drops to 40%. I sometimes wonder if we would have started the War in Iraq if it had come with a hefty tax hike.)

This is Ryan’s legacy — a colossal failure of Starve the Beast. Proof, once again, that there is no magical elixir to balancing the budget. If you want to balance the budget, you have to … balance the budget. You have to raise taxes or cut spending or both. You can’t just cut taxes and then pray to the Supply Side Gods that some fiscal magic will happen.

If Ryan’s disastrous leadership had done only this, it would be something of a silver lining. But, unfortunately, the impact will be even larger. Klein again:

Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.

Exactly. I expect, once the Democrats take power back, the Republicans will suddenly discover the deficit again. But they will find that this political straw crumbles in their collective fist. They are now riding the most reckless and irresponsible fiscal period in American history and have absolutely no one to blame but themselves. After the last two years, who are they to lecture anyone on debt?

And that is Paul Ryan’s fiscal legacy: mountainous debt, discredited fiscal theories and disgraced fiscal hawks. Ryan’s legacy was supposed to be a return to fiscal sanity. But the numbers do not lie: Paul Ryan’s tenure as Speaker corresponds to the most fiscally irresponsible period in American history. I leave to others whether this is because he was a “fraud” — as most liberal pundits want to claim — or — as I suspect — he lacked the political skill to force Congress to cut spending.

But this is his legacy. And it will haunt him. And us.

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Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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57 thoughts on “Paul Ryan and the Beast That Didn’t Starve

  1. IMHO, it was a lack of political heft. Ryan might be speaker, but I honestly don’t think anyone really took his leadership seriously. I think he wanted to be ‘liked’ more than he wanted to ‘lead’.


  2. Good post Michael.

    The trouble with Starve the Beast is that it requires the political system using it to have some sense of responsibility. Otherwise it’s just a cheap excuse for fiscally irresponsible tax cuts.


  3. I honestly don’t think Paul Ryan ever cared about fiscal responsibility. AFAICR, he voted for every single increase in expenditures during the W years, when “deficits didn’t matter”

    Philosophically, he cares about tax cuts, and about rolling back the safety net, pure Ayn Randism.

    In practice, as Speaker, he settled for the tax cuts only, and resigned himself not to dismantle Medicare (his dream) and repeal Obamacare. Hey, half a loaf


  4. I’d almost say none of this matters. We’ve had 40 years of the disastrous failure of Supply Side Economic Rhetoric, and it hasn’t stopped actual alleged Fiscal Conservatives from, you know, advocating for more supply side solutions. Unfortunately as we learned in the Great Recession, Supply Side ideas don’t do a dang thing for Demand Side problems, and what we continue to grapple with is Demand side problems. Put another way, tax cuts for corporations don’t increase the number of cars or TVs of pounds of apples bought in the US, which is the real driver of economic growth in our nation. Tax cuts for corporations drive stock buy backs, which is great if you are Warren Buffet, but lousy if you are John Q. Public.

    As a career fed I am at least gratified to see you calling out Congress for their failures but I think you have the idea of benefits and payments wrong. Take weather forecasting – the National Weather Service literally serves every American, all our businesses, and back stops our defense and homeland security enterprises. Ditto Clean Water enforcement at the EPA. food and drug inspections, Social Security and thousands of other programs across the US. While the recovery of Atlantic Salmon under the ESA may only benefit folks in upper Mid-Atlantic states, if it ever really occurs then that money can actually be moved to other species.

    My point is that we feds don’t generally “waste” money because we want to – we spend funds appropriated by Congress for things Congress directs us to do. There’s little demonstrated fraud in federal programs – Medicare has a 3% fraud rate which is lower then private insurance industry figures – and what politicians refer to as “abuse” is generally something someone doesn’t think government should spend money on, but lacks the votes to change.

    Finally, Medicare for All has had a lot of ink spilled on how it will be paid for and where taxes would have to be altered. Its not a solution that will float small government types boat, but it has a decadal potential to return $10 Trillion to the Economy over keeping up the present system. Voters will understand that if you actually take the time to tell them about it, and as long as Congress stops trying to sabotage its own ideas (as Republicans have been doing to the ACA since it passed).


    • I have a feeling, an inkling really, that this Medicare for all stuff won’t get serious traction until/unless the Dems get control back and repair/build on the ACA and it subsequently fails to work well.


  5. Seems delusional to me that anyone can pretend that the GOP in any way stood for fiscal discipline or sanity after Bush II’s period of spending and debt fueled wars (hidden off the books no less!).

    Starve the beast was always just a fig leaf excuse at best; the money! wing of the GOP wants tax cuts and they don’t give a rip about deficits so long as inflation remains tame. The Trump era at least lends clarity in that area- libertarians are ideologically homeless and electorally insignificant (but at least their ideology is coherent). The GOP is not a party of fiscal sanity and hasn’t been at least since Bush senior. They’re just the party of tax cuts, wars and opposing whatever liberals want.


  6. Those of you bringing up Reagan: it’s a poor comparison. Reagan may have tried Starve the Beast and the Laffer Curve but:

    1) when he took office, top marginal tax rates were 70%. No one paid it because of tax shelters, but the tax system was INSANE. My dad gave his secretary — hardly a wealthy person — a raise and her takehome pay went DOWN. That’s how bad it was in 1979.

    2) Reagan quickly realized this strategy wasn’t working and changed course. Over the last years of his Administration, he enacted multiple tax hikes — most notably the 1986 tax reform that raised rates but benefited the economy because it eliminated much of the deadweight loss of an archaic system. He supported the Graham-Rudman-Hollings amendment — a precursor to the sequester. His successor — Bush — enacted a budget deals that paved the way for the balanced budgets of the 90s (thanks to Clinton and the GOP Congress).

    The problem that the Republican Party has — if you want to credit them with this much intellectual rigor — is that they’ve taken the solution Reagan applied to the problems of the 70s and are applying them to the problems of today, which are very different. It’s one thing to talk about the Laffer Curve when tax rates are 70% (or 97% as they were when Kennedy cut taxes). It’s silly to talk about it at 34%. It’s one thing to actually, you know, reform taxes while raising them as Reagan did in ’86. It’s another to disguise a tax cut as tax reform as they did now.

    The GOP has shown the ability to be fiscally responsible in the past — Reagan, Bush I, the 90’s Congress. But the dunder-headed populism that began in the mid-90s took over the party in 2000 and has yet to be cured. I they really wanted to follow in Reagan’s footsteps, they’d be talking about a VAT as a supplement or replacement for much of the current tax system.


    • I think giving my credit to the 90’s congress steals a base. It’s easy to be fiscal hawks when there’s a President of the opposition party in the White House. Even the zombie republicans of the Obama era could manage that spasmodic partisan twitch. But I think one can at least make an arguement the Reagan and certainly Bush I doesn’t fit under the current category of republican fiscal fecklessness because of the taxation levels you are pointing out.


      • But if all government spending is not the same, all government revenue is not the same. Those entitlement programs on the graph have a separate and dedicated revenue stream.

        (But to be fair, also a weird accounting structure that makes the total US debt go up if the programs are operating in surplus – as they have been for most of their existence)


    • My dad gave his secretary — hardly a wealthy person — a raise and her takehome pay went DOWN.

      Middle class taxpayers who usually get a refund after filing and gonna know exactly how this feels come 2019. I don’t know how the Republicans are going to sell that bill of goods, but they sure were wise to do it in an off year. This cut was meant strictly for its donors.

      Not that I’m advocating this method of saving. It’s about as dumb a method as you could possible come up with


    • My dad gave his secretary — hardly a wealthy person — a raise and her takehome pay went DOWN. That’s how bad it was in 1979.

      Did Reagan invent marginal tax brackets as well?

      Because unless he did, then there’s only a handful of scenarios in which you can give someone a raise and have their income go down, and pretty much every one I can think of involves “Suddenly making too much money for various low-income subsidies”. They’re better about it now (most subsidies phase out rather than dropping abruptly at a certain income, because of exactly that problem).

      But if your Dad claimed that jumping to a new tax bracket cost her more than her raise, well…your Dad was wrong. Wrong in a pretty common way in America, because it’s amazing how many people think a bracket rate applies to all income, not just income in that bracket, if it helps.


      • Except I saw it first hand. The tax code before Reagan’s 86 reform was insanely complex. You had 16 different income tax brackets. You also had a bewildering variety of shelters and exemptions that phased in and out at different income points. So, yes, it was very possible to get a raise and see your income go down.


        • How many shelters and exemptions do you think your average secretary was taking advantage of? Perhaps she was one of those ridiculously well paid executive secretaries who made 6 figures even in the 80s?

          As I said, you could end up making less money with a pay raise — if you were poor, as many of those programs had fairly sharp cliffs.

          I’ve heard plenty of people in my life say stuff like “I turned down a pay raise because then I’d be in another bracket and my pay would go down!” — not one of them was correct. Each and every one thought a new bracket taxed all of their income at the new rate.

          I see no reason to suspect your Dad’s story wasn’t the same, a honest and common mistake about tax brackets — and if it wasn’t, it was almost certainly because his secretary was poorly paid. And those particular cliffs weren’t addressed in the 80s, but much later — and somewhat a piece at a time.


  7. I keep coming back to the idea that fiscal conservatism as an idea, nevermind the reality, has lost any potency as a divisive issue.

    It was always just a reactive move against socialism, having nothing in and of itself to recommend it.

    And since there is no one, anywhere on the political landscape urging massive deficit spending*, the spending priorities of government have returned to where they used to be pre-New Deal, which is a fight over policy preferences, not about the size of government itself.

    *With the exception of the political party which at this moment controls all branches of government


    • Once you bow to the God of Need you are forever bowing to the God of Need. That’s why reactionary isn’t really reactionary, but preventative action against socialism.

      The conservative part was not to get hooked on crack, but a portion of the tribe demanded mandatory crack, so here we are. Now you have cola flavored crack, or pepzi flavored crack.


  8. President Harris is probably going to have to face the bond bullies again, like Bill Clinton had to in 1993. So many other kids in the schoolyard have been weaklings over the past 10 years, that they left the US completely alone (and some of the time, the bullies actually gave the US *their* lunch money)


    • Yeah it could theoretically happen but first, ya know, the bond bullies would need somewhere else to park their dough. When you consider the alternatives currently it looks pretty bleak for the bullies. Russia and China remain places you’d send your money to vanish; the BRICS remain too small to absorb more than they do; the EU is even more unstable and indebted than the US. The threat “Shape up your ship or I’ll jump into that pirate ship or that ship on fire over there” doesn’t have quite the same heft.


      • Perfect storm scenario-
        1) The wheels come off of China’s economy, so they don’t have the cash to buy US debt anymore
        2) The Eurozone stabilizes enough to make its debt ok, but the Eurozone is not strong enough to have a lot of extra cash lying around looking for a place to park it
        3) The US alters the tax code to no longer give US treasuries preferential tax treatment, greatly reducing domestic demand for US debt as an asset class.


  9. Meanwhile, the DoD (or at least, the Navy part) is already crying poverty if this current, and recently buffed up, defense budget is cut.

    So, it looks like DOOOOOM blogging maybe making a comeback.

    (no peak oil this time around though)

    (and I don’t listen to right wing talk radio anymore, I wonder if the goldsters are making hay of the projected deficits in their ads, a la the Bankruptcy 1995 days?)


  10. Here’s the thing – at the VERY GROSS TOP 60,000 foot level, the Federal government takes in about 2/3rds of the money it needs to do all the things we citizens have asked it to do. Thankfully the revenue streams are separate, so that the earned benefits can continue to be paid regardless of political whim. Sadly that remaining 1/3 that is uncovered is the entirety of discretionary spending by the Executive branch.

    This means that if you want to make tax cuts match spending cuts on the income tax side – and I have yet to see any plans to address the poorly named payroll taxes that pay for earned benefits – you do have limited and never good options. Right now pretty much everything the government does – the non-mandatory Defense programs, the FBI, food safety inspections, tax collections, National Parks, even the Border wall – is on the “credit card.” So unless you are willing to raise revenue (which Reagan did) you have to cut those programs. and by cut I don’t mean the average 3% decrease we feds get with flat budgets – I mean eliminate. Terminate. Close. Which entails putting many of my fellow civil servants and an equal number of private sector contract staff on the street. Which would further depress tax revenue and raise need for safety net programs.

    Sadly, for Republican politicians at least, markets don’t do what they “should do” in response to supply side fixes, which means that Republican attempts to keep the “Two Santa Clauses” theory going in our rapidly evolving gig economy are doomed to failure. Mr. Ryan has surly figured this out, which is no doubt a reason he has chosen to leave politics now – likely hoping to avoid blame when the next Recession or Crash occurs.


  11. The Trump tax cut has hurt — to the tune of $100-200 billion a year. But it is peanuts compared to the spending.

    This is how it went down in the 80s, as well. If you compare tax revenues as a share of GDP in the 80s to the 70s, there’s a decrease, but it’s very small, a fraction of a percentage point. In terms of GDP percentage points, spending increased six times as much as tax revenues decreased. If Congress and Reagan had just held spending growth down to the rate of inflation plus population growth, they could have done the same tax cuts while shrinking the national debt.


  12. I’m deeply disappointed—or was a dozen or so years ago; now I just expect it—with the Republicans’ failure to control spending, but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you’re suggesting here. Take a look at this chart, which is federal spending adjusted for inflation. It looks an awful lot to me like spending was following a roughly linear trend through the 2000s, then jumped up temporarily to deal with the recession, and is now back on the original trend line.

    Most federal government spending is essentially on autopilot. “Mandatory spending” is a misnomer—there’s no legal reason it can’t be reduced—but politically it’s a tough sell, so that just continues its preordained metastatic course. And with Baby Boomers retiring, that’s not going to let up any time soon. So-called “discretionary spending” is easier to cut in theory since it has to be voted on every year, but politically it’s pretty tough to cut that, too. The government could cut military spending in half next year, but even with Democrats in power we’d be lucky to get a 10% cut.

    It’s not like the Republicans passed a bunch of huge new spending programs. Here’s a breakdown of the spending increases by major category from 2014-2019 (not adjusted for inflation), with the percentage increase in parentheses:

    Military: $85B (14%)
    Health (not including Medicare): $185B (45%)
    Medicare: $119B (23%)
    Social Security: $202B (24%)
    Net Interest*: $134B (59%)
    Other: $178B (50%)

    The one thing we kind of expect Republicans to go nuts on barely outpaced inflation, and the majority of the growth was from automatic spending increases in welfare and entitlement programs put in place by Democrats, most recently the ACA, which had some expensive provisions that didn’t kick in until 2014 (hence the large increase in health spending). Not sure what all is included in “Other,” but I can’t think of any major new spending programs the Republicans launched that could explain it.

    *Remember the one about how the government should borrow lots of money now because it’s cheap? Who could possibly have predicted that it wouldn’t stay cheap?


    • A few points:

      1) 2000 is when spending really began to get out of control. During the 90s, it was rising at about 3.5% per annum. Under Bush, it started going up 8% per annum, which was unsustainable. If you look at that plot, you’ll see the inflection point in the graph. So we’re “back” to the unsustainable Bush II-era increases. If we’d stayed on the trajectory we were on in 1999, spending would be about $500-800 billion less than it is today.

      2) It is true that a lot of spending is on autopilot. However, both discretionary spending and military spending have gone up dramatically over the last three years. And entitlement reform was supposed to be Ryan’s entire game.

      3) “Remember the one about how the government should borrow lots of money now because it’s cheap? Who could possibly have predicted that it wouldn’t stay cheap?”

      Yeah, I was saying that a LOT Over the last eight years as various Keynesians argued we should be borrowing like crazy.


      • There’s a case to be made that if we had borrowed more heavily in the trough of recession, we wouldn’t have to/need to/want to borrow now near (or at) the top of the business cycle.

        The counter that case is that the US has become woefully inefficient in public sector spending, with results that provide good public goods nor trickle down money to the working class marginally employed.


  13. In a democracy, we generally get the politicians we deserve. In a democracy with checks and balances, when we get someone better than we deserve, he can’t get anything done. That’s what I think of Ryan. He tried everything he could think of to make progress on his pet issue, drafting legislation, trying to rally the troops, eventually becoming Speaker involuntarily, and he achieved little. Maybe his biggest success is that anyone, anywhere, talks about entitlement reform at all. The voters of 434 districts owe him an apology.


        • If the voters of the districts owe him an apology I think that sounds pretty much like you feel that Ryan didn’t fail as much as be failed. Frankly I’ve never been impressed with Ryan. His numbers always included enormous asterisks that rendered them more nonsense than math and he caked on the supply side fairy dust nonsense wherein he tried to hide or hand wave away his more difficult choices. In the end he never failed to come through for the 1% and screw the rest of his voters whenever he was in a position to enact policy. Has there been a more vacuous or ineffectual speaker in the past couple decades?


          • I had missed this last week, but I wasn’t aware of how young Paul Ryan was, when he was being touted as the most serious wonk ever.

            AOC, on the differing receptions given her and Ryan:

            Double standards are Paul Ryan being elected at 28 and immediately being given the benefit of his ill-considered policies considered genius; and me winning a primary at 28 to immediately be treated with suspicion & scrutinized, down to my clothing, of being a fraud.


            • AOC said some slightly dumb and/or slightly misunderstood things, but the important part is the Beltway opposes her overall ideas, so she must be crushed.

              On the other hand, Paul Ryan totally came into Washington talking about doing what the Beltway has wanted to do for decades – destroy Social Security & Medicare, so he could stay incredibly dumb things as long as it was in the service of cutting entitlements.

              Also, gender and race, with a bonus of the idea that young Republican’s are reasonable go-getting business owners while young Democrat’s are all wild eyed activists, but that part is assumed.


              • Ryan came in touting well-proven ideas: fiscal discipline and government reform and completely failed to execute them. These were the ideas that drove the Clinton Administration. AOC is coming in with completely discredited ideas and pretending that they are fresh and original insights. Ryan never said anything as silly as that you could milk $3 trillion+ in new spending based on Pentagon accounting errors. Or that you could pay for ten years of a program based on one year of revenue.


                • First of all, I agree to a small part. For the most part, the Clinton Administration was center-right to right-wing on economics.

                  Paul Ryan voted for every Republican tax cut, every deficit busting defense budget, etc,. etc. Paul Ryan, like most “deficit hawks” only cares about fiscal discipline for programs for the poor and middle class. Those must be as small as possible and cut to the bone.

                  Of course by, “government reform”, you mean “cutting the welfare state to ribbons because of an inherent belief that the poor deserve what they get,” then yes, he believes in government reform. Plenty of radicals like Ryan believe in government reform. I believe in the well proven ideas of government reform as well – I want to reform the government by destroying the Senate and adding 8 35-year-old liberal Harvard law grads to the Supreme Court.

                  Also, it’s incredibly amusing when right-leaning people talk about “discredited ideas” that are so “discredited” that if you tried to remove the programs folks like AOC are talking about in countries like France, Japan, or Germany, your party would be destroyed.

                  The average Republican congressperson’s stated political goals on the size of the social welfare state would put them in the extreme right on that question in every country in the First World, except the US.

                  So, in general, I find the whole Republican and right-leaning worldview about the welfare state far more silly than a few errant Tweets.


                  • Also, it’s incredibly amusing when right-leaning people talk about “discredited ideas” that are so “discredited” that if you tried to remove the programs folks like AOC are talking about in countries like France, Japan, or Germany, your party would be destroyed.

                    Their nations are our “states”. Trying to force the EU into having a one size welfare state with one set of rules covering Italy, France, Germany, and Poland would break any party that tried it.

                    Even trying to get Italy and Germany to share the same credit card is a constant source of problems.


            • Ryan had two advantages — beside gender and ethnicity — over AOC. (1) He was pushing exactly the policies the party’s elders wanted. (2) The House Republicans had revampd how their caucus handled committee chairmanships, with term limits and reduced “points” for seniority. So Ryan could chair the Budget Committee in his 30s, then move on to chair Ways and Means, and then the Speakership. No Democrat in his/her 30s is going to chair a major established committee. Probably no Democrat in his/her 40s.


            • She makes a lot of gaffes, and she has crazy eyes. I wish the latter didn’t count against someone in politics, but it does. Actually, I don’t mind gaffes that much either, but in her case, it seems to correspond to limited knowledge.

              I do hate the whole “nobody’s had it tougher than me” shtick. It fits her ideology, to think that she knows exactly what someone else’s life has been like and to think she’s had it worse, on the basis of feelings alone.


  14. Pinky: He tried everything he could think of to make progress on his pet issue, drafting legislation, trying to rally the troops, eventually becoming Speaker involuntarily, and he achieved little. Maybe his biggest success is that anyone, anywhere, talks about entitlement reform at all. The voters of 434 districts owe him an apology.

    His fellow Republican politicians MAY owe him an apology, but no one else. If those other House members were actually representing their districts (A big IF in my book) then choosing not to support him was their job. He either made a cogent case they could support (and take back to their districts successfully) or he didn’t. That’s not anyone else’s fault.

    And “entitlement” reform isn’t whats been talked about (in the sense of broadening who pays for earned benefits by removing the taxation cap or scaling benefits paid differently). “Reform” seems to focus on either decreasing benefit payments by privatizing the programs (since private companies will take a cut to make a profit and of necessity that cut will have to come from the benefits side) or changing eligibility rules to kick deserving folks out. Take the “reform” of Medicaid that states are pushing to require work by recipients. 65% of Medicaid recipients are children or the elderly who can’t work, and the remaining 35% are generally already working to the extent they can. So why require recipients to do something they are either already doing or can’t do unless you intend to use it as a test to throw people off the rolls?

    I get that no one likes taxation generally,a nd I get that civil servants like me are generally seen as leeches not helpers. But we can’t have a functioning society with government providing some services, and we can’t keep demanding those services without being willing to pay for them.


  15. One of the arguments I used to make a million years ago on Redstate (full disclosure: banned) was that the Republicans under Bush demonstrated that they didn’t really care about Fiscal Conservativism (especially during 2005-2006).

    And, eventually, people who cared about Fiscal Conservativism would reach the conclusion that, okay, it’s time for them to switch over to caring about the 2nd most important thing on their important things list.

    I was told something to the effect of “Oh, yeah?!? Where are the Fiscons gonna go?!?” and “If they were *REALLY* Fiscons, they wouldn’t be willing to jump to the 2nd most important thing!”

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure that nobody qualifies as Fiscon, anymore. They all moved to the 2nd most important thing on their list.

    Or 3rd. Or 4th.


    • I also was on RedState at that time, after my conversion to Obama Democrat, thinking I could talk sense into my former teammates. I was after all, a Fiscon since the 1970s.

      However I realized that fiscal conservatism is a platitude like “family values” or “patriotism”.

      Balanced budgets and prudent planning is so sensible, so reasonable and self evidently good that I couldn’t understand why no one was arguing against it.

      Which is why no one is, or ever has.
      No one is demanding deficits, anymore than anyone is demanding libertinism.

      The epiphany for me is seeing that government isn’t actually conducive to these lofty high concept abstractions, which have unwavering pole stars of ideology.

      Sometimes massive deficits are a good tradeoff, if the result is beating the Nazis.
      Sometimes painful high taxes are a good thing, if they help pay back that debt.
      Sometimes programs outlive their usefulness, and need to be cut.
      Sometimes taxes do hinder investment and need to be cut.

      When people talk about platitudes like “fiscal conservatism” inevitably it is to hide what they really mean, which is a different set of budget priorities.


      • Taxes only hinder investment because companies have decided the holy grail of their fiduciary responsibility is maximization of short term profits. Even then, tax cuts don’t spur investment. We’ve tried to make that pig sing for 40 years. Lets at least move on from that, shall we?


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