By JOE CONASON
Someone needs to tell Paul Ryan that his party — and the economic platform of austerity and plutocracy he crafted for it — lost a national election last year. Someone also needs to tell the Wisconsin Republican that he still chairs the House Budget Committee mainly thanks to gerrymandered redistricting.
Someone clearly needs to remind him of those realities because the “vision document” he proposed on Tuesday as the Republican federal budget is only a still more extreme version of the same notions (and the same evasions) that he and Mitt Romney tried to sell without success last fall.
Voters decisively rejected that version of Ryan’s “path to prosperity,” with its gutting of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, its additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and its destructive cutbacks in education, infrastructure, scientific research, national security and a hundred other essential elements of modern American life — and a decent future — that require effective government.
Indeed, the astonishing initial assessment of the new Republican budget by experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is that Ryan wants even deeper cuts and even more lavish tax cuts than he and Romney touted in 2012. The CBPP estimates that the new Ryan plan would cut $800 billion over the coming decade from an assortment of vital programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, or food stamps), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that supports the elderly poor, Pell grants for higher education and federal school lunches, among others, along with the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Child Tax Credits that have historically improved standards of living for millions of impoverished working families.
Ryan pretends to admire Ronald Reagan, but the late president — who proudly extended and expanded the EITC — was far too liberal for the likes of him and Romney. Unlike the sunny Gipper, these sulking millionaires resent the working poor — the “47 percent” — who aren’t paying high enough taxes.
But everyone ought to know Ryan well enough by now to anticipate these cruel proposals. They ought to know, too, that Ryan would allow the entire edifice handed down to us by previous generations — highways, bridges, airports, canals, reservoirs, schools, parks and much more — to crumble into oblivion, rather than increase taxes on the Republican donors whose wealth has multiplied so astronomically in recent years. His voice is the high-pitched drone of a generation of termites, voraciously consuming the nation’s foundations.
What everyone may not know is that Ryan’s vision of the future is quite blurry, since he again refuses to specify exactly how his budget allegedly achieves balance. It says (again) that the severest cuts will be made in domestic non-discretionary spending but never details how much will be cut from which programs or even categories. It says (again) that tax expenditures will be reduced to balance those tax cuts for the rich, but never details those either. It says (again) that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, although there is no chance of that happening now. And it says that defense spending — including untold billions in well-known waste — will simply be restored to pre-sequestration levels, while everything else will be cut again, starting at the post-sequestration baseline, much as Romney promised last year.
It says the federal budget will achieve balance within 10 years, but (again) there is no reason to believe its unfounded promises.
This old “new” budget demonstrates that no change is taking hold among the Republicans, except that they seem even more rigid in their ideological obsessions. No basis exists for bipartisan negotiation toward a budget compromise.
Without a massive public reaction to the Ryan proposals, the likelihood is that sequestration will continue and the Republicans will again seek to hold government hostage, as they have done repeatedly since 2009. And the nation will continue to suffer until voters finally decide, in their wisdom, to curtail the power of this truculent and implacable faction.