Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Catch of the Day

To....Paul Ryan. For: "This is not a budget. This is a cause."

Now, I don't mean this in the sense that, say, deficit idealist Dana Millbank does -- that Ryan doesn't cut the deficit enough. No, personally, I'm pretty happy with his supposed ten-year deficit number (at least the CBO version of it), if I'm just looking at that, and I don't much believe or really care about deficit projections thirty, forty, or fifty years into the future.

No, it's "not a budget" in the sense that a real budget has reasonably detailed plans for spending and revenues. Ryan's "budget" document released yesterday was long -- very long -- on rhetoric, but failed to meet that basic definition. On discretionary spending, Ryan at least had spending caps with a promise of sequestration to enforce them...but as I said yesterday, that's never proven to be effective, and Ryan was notably unforthcoming with his own preferences of how to meet the caps. Still, at least there's something.

The revenue side is just a black box. We're given revenue targets, but no specifics about how Ryan would get there. Matt Yglesias, reading it, concludes that there must be a hidden middle class tax hike in order to meet the target revenues. I disagree! I think the whole thing is smoke and mirrors; Ryan is planning to meet the revenue target the way David Stockman and Mitch Daniels planned to do it, by believing that anything conservatives like is certain, just certain, to unleash record-breaking economic growth and therefore solve every problem from teenage acne to the back end of the Yankees rotation, and incidentally showed the treasury with revenues. But, sure, Yglesias could be right; the problem is that we have no way of knowing, because this isn't a real budget.

It's not a budget. It's a cause. Get that, and you'll understand what's going on.

10 comments:

  1. I don't know if this can be done (maybe someone here does and can enlighten me), but if I were the House Dems, I'd do everything I can to get Ryan's proposal fleshed out, scored by the CBO, moved through committee and voted on by the full House. If I were the Senate Dems, I'd try to figure out a way to take a vote on Ryan's bill (once it's turned into a bill).

    Why? To get the Republicans on record so that next year we'd have scores of races in which "Republican X voted to abolish Medicare for you...so his rich friends could get tax breaks" ads run nonstop.

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  2. So if even Ryan is admitting it's not a budget, can we get Sully to dial back the "What a great, wonderful, serious document this is!" rhetoric?

    (I know, I know, this is kinda apropo of nothing, but Sully's constant ability to be hoodwinked by Republican promises of fiscal discipline is a hobbyhorse of mine...)

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  3. Ivan Nova?!?!?!?!

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  4. Colby,

    Good luck with that. It's not just Republicans, though; I have a mostly written post from late last night bashing him for praising Ross Perot on the deficit. I pulled the plug on it because I thought it's been said too many times already, and Perot isn't exactly timely...I should also say that it's not just Sullivan. There's something about being a deficit idealist -- and Sullivan certainly qualifies -- that seems to make them open to a certain type of flim-flam artist. I really don't understand it at all.

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  5. The thing about deficit idealists is that they are fundamentally conservative, but of a Toryesque sort, alienated from the modern era GOP's redneck populism.

    Viewed through that lens, I'd argue that everything about deficit idealists snaps into focus. In Sully's case, being gay just makes him even more alienated from redneck populism, but he is fundamentally still a High Tory.

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  6. Agreed with everything you said, JB and Rick. The only reason I single out Sully is that, well, I singled him out long before this; he's the only real deficit idealist/High Tory I read.

    (And that's because he consistently climbs down out of the tree and says "Oh, turns out that guy was full of shit, too, I'm sorry." But it'd be nice if we could just go right to his blog on the third day of the story and skip his initial infatuation).

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  7. One of the great frustrations that we deficit idealists have with you deficit "realists" is a perception that you believe a Reagan/O'Neill/TEFRA-type grand bargain will occur before we reach the point of the IMF wolves howling at our door. When that happens is unclear; there seems to be faith from the deficit "realists" that the system will solve the looming catastrophe naturally, in due time.

    We deficit idealists have no such faith in the American political system, left to its own devices. The working environment that led to the O'Neill/Reagan bargain is gone today, replaced by much more partisan polarization and meaningless platitudes. Whatever is legitimate about the Tea Party is probably largely a reaction to this decay in our politics.

    We idealists don't trust politicians today to take the risks Reagan and O'Neill did, we see a bunch of empty suits such as Obama was when convening his transparently useless debt commission. Obama ain't gonna take anything away from a voter. Neither will anyone else.

    So whatever the specific flaws in Ryan's vision, however it fails to meet its objective, it importantly takes things away from important constituents. To we deficit idealists, this simple fact is an act of bravery that is largely without peer, unless you make the extremely generous assumption that Simpson/Bowles actually counted for something.

    Predictably, given the current environment, Ryan's opponents demagogued his cut to Medicare as "trying to kill the program". Apparently they were unaware of the delicious irony that the alternative, letting Medicare bloom on its current trajectory, would kill the country.

    I'm with Sullivan on this one: I don't buy that any politicians are inclined to take the political risk required to get our fiscal house in order. Whatever its flaws, Ryan's plan appears to do just that, for which he should be cheered, not derided.

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  8. "there seems to be faith from the deficit "realists" that the system will solve the looming catastrophe naturally, in due time."

    Where is this faith evidenced? Everything I've read about the nascent "Deficit Realism" idea is silent on what politicians WILL do; all I and the people I read believe is that different circumstances should produce different action in regards to the deficit.

    "The working environment that led to the O'Neill/Reagan bargain is gone today, replaced by much more partisan polarization and meaningless platitudes. Whatever is legitimate about the Tea Party is probably largely a reaction to this decay in our politics."

    This doesn't make any sense. Clearly, the political system HAS changed enough to alter the possibilities of a deficit compromise. And it has done so relatively quickly! Reagan/O'Neill was only thirty years ago, the Bush/Clinton consensus only 20. So the current political system, ugly and incapable as it may be (and honestly, I see plenty of evidence that it CAN act in a crisis, so perhaps we need to flesh that out a bit) has little bearing on what a FUTURE political system might be capable of. We just don't know what the pressures, factions, and coalitions will be 20, 30 years from now.

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  9. Moreover, if the current political system ISN'T capable of addressing this issue when it's a full blown crisis, then it's not going to get the job done when it can conceivably put it off, as it can right now. So Ryan's "budget" is DOA, anyway.

    "So whatever the specific flaws in Ryan's vision, however it fails to meet its objective, it importantly takes things away from important constituents."

    "Important constituents" to the OTHER PARTY. Senior citizens who flocked to the Republicans in 2010 will see nothing changed. Wealthy Americans will actually see ANOTHER tax cut- yes, they're being GIVEN something, not having anything taken away. All Ryan's budget does is sock it to the other side's voters, and that's not special; even Obama has a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy (And PASSED a plan that cuts Medicaid).

    "unless you make the extremely generous assumption that Simpson/Bowles actually counted for something."

    It counts for exactly as much as Ryan's budget, in that neither one will pass. Even by your own conception of the current political system (as well as my own) Ryan's budget hasn't a prayer. So it's really got no more claim to anything than Bowles/Simpson.

    "Ryan's plan appears to do just that"

    And that's why we shouldn't always trust appearances. Because Ryan's plan doesn't touch HIS constituents, it doesn't use trustworthy numbers or assumptions, it LOWERS taxes on Ryan's base (funny way to address the deficit, that) and, in general, is just a Republican Christmas List dressed up as deficit reduction. The fact that he takes something away from the other guys' voters doesn't change any of that, and does not, no, make this this a serious plan.

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  10. Mostly agree, I think, with much of what Colby said, but just want to emphasize that budget realists don't actually think there's anything inherently good about balancing the budget, or that it ever "has" to be done. If it's causing problems, the deficit should be reduced. If not, well, not really. It *can* cause problems, but often it doesn't.

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