As the pummeler referenced immediately below, I'm genuinely impressed with this introspection by Jacob Weisberg:
After my last column, I got pummeled in the liberal blogosphere for asserting that the Ryan budget represented a big step in the direction of conservative honesty. I deserved some of the abuse. Though I criticized Ryan for his unsupported rosy assumptions (shame on you, Heritage Foundation hacks), I reacted too quickly and didn't sort out just how laughable Ryan's long-term spending projections were. His plan projects an absurd future, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in which all discretionary spending, now around 12 percent of GDP, shrinks to 3 percent of GDP by 2050. Defense spending alone was 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009. With numbers like that, Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.
Pummeling gets results!
But then Weisberg immediately veers off course:
Yet I think I was right in crediting Ryan with owning up to what other Republicans won't: that the party's demand for ever-lower taxes would basically end Medicaid and Medicare as entitlement programs.
The problem, of course, is that Ryan doesn't own up to this at all. Continuing the Republican practice of denying any connections between revenues and deficits, he refuses to concede that the spending levels he proposes are in any way constrained by his preference for staying at or below Bush-level tax rates. Here's a typical example of Ryan dodging the point:
BOB SCHIEFFER: If the country is going bankrupt, if the country needs to borrow forty cents of every dollar that it spends, how do you help that by reducing the amount of taxes that the richest people in the country pay? It would be seem to be that’s where you get revenue. How do-- how do you-- how do you justify?
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: Two things. Two things, number one, we don’t have a tax problem. Our revenuers are going back to where they have been historically. We have a big spending problem. Spending is growing at a very unsustainable rate. So let’s focus on spending. The other thing I would simply say is massive tax increases. The President’s proposing 1.5 trillion in tax increases. The Democrats in Congress are proposing anywhere from two to sixteen trillion dollars in tax increases based on the three budgets they brought to the floor the other day. We don’t want to slow down the economy. Here’s the-- here’s what we’re trying to get, spending cuts and controls to get spending under control because that’s the problem and economic growth and job creation. We don’t want to give up one to get the other. Raising tax rates on anybody, especially successful small businesses slows down the economy, loses jobs and if you have lower economic growth, you have less revenues and it puts you further behind. We want more tax revenues but we want to get it by expanding job creation, by expanding economic growth so the secret to success here is economic growth and job creation through tax reform, not tax cuts, tax reform at the same levels get better economic growth which we get more revenues and also focus on the problem. The problem is spending.
That's the answer Ryan provides over and over again. He paints the debt as an existential crisis, but refuses to acknowledge any tradeoff between the tax rates he prefers and the affordable level of social spending. And rather than acknowledge that he would end Medicare and Medicaid as entitlement programs, he insists against all evidence that free market forces will make the programs stronger than ever:
We think by adding competition and choice in the delivery of medical care, by giving the consumer more power is a better solution. The prescription drug bill, which works like this, came in 40 percent below cost projections. Why? Because it has choice and competition.
Now, to be fair, President Obama's budget vision is fairly vague, too. He proposes large, unnamed cuts to non-entitlement spending -- though not nearly as large as Ryan's -- without defining what government functions he wants to pare back or eliminate. He refuses to admit that the level of government he finds necessary would almost certainly require returning tax rates for the middle class, not just the rich, back to Clinton-era levels.
Anyway, I'm glad to see Jacob Weisberg has thought better of Ryan's plan.