GOP budget plan slams safety net, not deficit

Ryan budget recycles some bad ideas

April 10, 2011 

As wrangling over this year's budget threatened to shut down the federal government, House Republicans last week unveiled their plan for next year and beyond.

It would junk the American social contract and produce a massive transfer of wealth from those at the bottom and middle of the economy to those at the top.

The author, House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is being heaped with praise for having the political courage to force a reckoning with the sacrifices required to tame the $14 trillion national debt.

And give him credit for making one thing clear: We can no longer pretend that a just and decent society is possible without paying for it.

Despite the accolades, Ryan's ideas are not new. What he offers is a steroidal version of the Republican playbook from the George W. Bush era: tax cuts for the rich, wink-and-nod regulation of Wall Street and a surrender of Americans' medical care to the insurance industry.

We've been there, done that and ended up in the deepest hole since the 1930s. The stock market and corporate profits have rebounded, but unemployment remains too high — 1 in 10 Kentuckians — and average Americans are economically insecure.

Not surprisingly, given the Republican record on deficit spending, Ryan's plan would not balance the budget for 20 years.

Meanwhile, the spending cuts, along with the end of temporary federal programs to save teachers' jobs and prop up state and local governments, could snuff out the recovery, without making a dent in the deficit.

Ryan calls for lower tax rates and fewer tax brackets, while most of his spending cuts would come from programs for the elderly, poor and disabled. He also calls for broadening the tax base by ending unspecified loopholes, deductions, credits and subsidies.

Ryan's tax reform ideas could provide a launching pad for a serious debate (if anyone in Washington really wants one) about the $1.4 trillion annual deficit since tax breaks drain $1 trillion from federal revenues each year.

It's silly, though, to imagine the budget can be balanced without bringing in more taxes. Equally silly (or cynical) is the myth, ensconced in the Ryan plan, that lower taxes produce higher revenues.

Getting control of the deficit and debt will require both spending curbs and tax increases. That's the formula recommended by the Bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Ryan's cuts would come overwhelmingly from the hides of the most vulnerable, while his broadening of the tax base could end tax deductions that helped build the middle class.

His plan to privatize Medicare in 2022 would hold down costs for government by shifting them onto the elderly. He claims that competition among insurers for Medicare recipients' business would hold down health care costs. But the industry now competes for the non-Medicare population's business, and that has not kept spiraling health care costs from becoming the biggest drag on the budget and American businesses.

Republicans savaged President Barack Obama for cutting future Medicare spending in the health care reforms that became law last year.

The Ryan plan keeps those cuts, makes additional cuts by shifting costs onto Medicare recipients, but ends reforms aimed at cost control and improving the delivery and quality of care.

Ryan's plan also cancels health care coverage for 30 million uninsured Americans and de-funds reforms aimed at averting another financial disaster and protecting consumers of financial products.

Hats off to Ryan if his brutal vision inspires serious work on balancing costs and revenue. It's too bad so many of his ideas look like a bad rerun — in 3D.

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