Rep. Paul Ryan's faith-based budget

New York TimesApril 3, 2014 

The Republican budget for 2015, released Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will never come close to being law, so it doesn't have to pretend to be serious.

This is a document designed solely to be reduced to a few bullet points so House Republicans can have something to show their most anti-government voters.

That might work in their most carefully gerrymandered districts, but does the Republican Party really want to coalesce around a budget this destructive to the country's future: harming the middle class and the poor; undercutting popular safety-net programs, including Medicare and Pell grants; and heaping tax benefits on the rich?

Apparently it does, and the full House will probably support it in a few days. Voters should look closely at the details to see if they would choose the same course.

• Medicare would become a voucher program by 2024 for those now 55 and younger, allowing them to choose between a fixed payment for private insurance and the traditional plan.

The problem with this idea, revived from past Ryan budgets, is that traditional Medicare wouldn't stay unchanged for long because it will attract the sickest patients and become so expensive that most people would be driven to the private plan. The spending cuts in that plan would quickly make it inadequate.

• Ryan would make exactly the same $700 billion in cuts to Medicare that Republicans have ridiculed Democrats for making to pay for health care reform. But, of course, he would repeal the health law and has no particular concern about the 13 million people who would no longer be covered under the law's Medicaid expansion.

In fact, he would turn Medicaid and food stamps into block grants, knowing full well that that would permit Republican states to trim benefits to the bone.

• He cuts nondefense discretionary spending by $791 billion over 10 years below the inadequate levels already agreed on with the Senate. That will mean vast cuts to education, public works, job training, medical research, housing and nutrition aid. But he would raise military spending by $483 billion over the current 10-year caps.

• The budget lowers the top tax rate to 25 percent for the wealthiest taxpayers, down from the current 39.6 percent, while raising taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000.

When Republican tax writers in the House tried to do something similar recently, they discovered it could not be done without huge increases in the deficit. But there's a reason that isn't a problem for Ryan, and it's a bad one.

• It's because he assumes that all his plans for cuts will magically drive growth and tax revenues to unimaginable levels, producing a $5 billion surplus. It doesn't matter how many times this has been discredited; Republicans believe it as an article of faith, and their 2015 budget is a more faith-based blueprint than any that have gone before.

Ryan hopes to be promoted to the helm of the Ways and Means Committee now that its chairman, Dave Camp, has announced his retirement. That would put a man with very dangerous ideas in a position to do serious damage to the tax code and the safety net, which Ways and Means controls.

His budget is mostly an exercise in grandstanding right now, but, in a short time, it could become a pathway to something far worse.

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