Jonathan Chait

Paul Ryan On The Impossibility Of A Grand Bargain

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Paul Ryan explains why there won't be a Grand Bargain on the deficit:

“I don’t think this committee is going to achieve a full fix to our problems, because Democrats have never wanted to put their health care bill on the table,” Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who leads the House Budget Committee and studiously avoided assignment to the new panel, said in a recent interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

Of course, the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit by a substantial amount over the long term. So why would a refusal to partially or completely repeal that law be the fundamental impediment to a deficit deal -- as opposed to, say, the GOP's theological opposition to higher revenues even in return for a much greater amount of spending cuts?

To understand what Ryan's saying, you have to grasp a couple of his premises. Ryan lives in a world in which the Affordable Care Act dramatically worsens the deficit picture, and the Congressional Budget Office's score of the bill is totally inaccurate. Ryan's beliefs about this are based on a bunch of demonstrable fallacies, but that of course is part of the problem -- the CBO is going to score any deficit-reducing bill, which means it will be scored by CBO-math instead of by Ryan-math.

Now, it's true that by CBO math you could save money by keeping the budget savings in the Affordable Care Act and simply eliminating all the coverage expansions. That's what Ryan's budget does. And this, in turn, highlights another unbridgeable gap between the two parties. Democrats and Republicans both believe that the long-term deficit needs to come down. Democrats think this needs to be done in such a way as to impose greater sacrifice on those most able to bear it, while sparing the most vulnerable. Ryan and (apparently) most Republicans believe the exact opposite. His plan entails throwing thirty million Americans off of health care insurance and concentrating two-thirds of his budget cuts on the small slice of federal spending that benefits the poor.

All this is to say that Ryan defines "our problems" in completely different terms than Democrats do. Ryan sees the problem as a government that takes too much from the rich and gives too much to the poor and/or the sick. A bipartisan deficit panel is never going to "solve" that problem.

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