August 15, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In a post titled, “Why Moderates Should Like Paul Ryan,” Ross Douthat of the New York Times writes that “moderates – and maybe, just maybe, the occasional liberal as well – should appreciate Ryan … because he’s almost single-handedly responsible for saving the Republican Party from some of its own worst impulses.”
Is that so? I’ll agree that Douthat is right on the money when he writes:
Republicans looked poised to spend President Obama’s first term alternating between do-nothingism and delusion. They would demagogue every Democratic proposal, decline to offer any alternative on any issue, and seal themselves inside a fantasy world where tax cuts always pay for themselves and budgets can be balanced by cutting funding for NPR.
(Mitt Romney would add a special for the ladies: “… and Planned Parenthood.”)
Then along came Paul. According to Douthat, Ryan “courageously” urged Republicans to accept “detailed alternatives” to Obama policies, courageous “because details are dangerous, and posturing is easier.”
The first courageous alternative Douthat touts is the Patients’ Choice Act, which Ryan co-sponsored with three other Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Tom “Dr. No” Coburn (Oklahoma). Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post summarized the proposal:
The plan would have converted the employer tax break for health coverage to a refundable individual tax credit, albeit not one tied to income, unlike the credits in the Affordable Care Act. Like the ACA, it sets up state-level exchanges so that individuals can band together for lowe premiums, but it doesn’t have individual or employer mandates. The plan includes a ban on discrimination based on preexisting conditions and a requirement that insurers issue insurance, but the former is weaker than the provision in the ACA, and both apply only within the exchanges, which are optional for employers. People on the normal individual market could still be denied insurance.
According to an analysis by the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “the Coburn-Ryan plan would likely make comprehensive, affordable coverage less available to many who now have it while failing to significantly reduce the number of uninsured Americans.” It “would significantly erode employer-based coverage…; fails to create a viable alternative for people losing employer coverage…; [and] would jeopardize care for tens of millions of Medicaid beneficiaries.” Sorry, Mr. Douthat, I don’t see anything in there for moderates to like. Moderates lose their jobs or their employer-based insurance, and they get sick, too.
Courageous Alternative No. 2: Douthat writes, “Ryan, despite his own supply-side sympathies, deliberately drew up a plan for deficit reduction that would work with our current tax code, and doesn’t require any rosy fantasies about how tax cuts will spur unprecedented growth.” Is that so? As we learned from Matt Miller of the Washington Post,
[Ryan's] early ‘Roadmap for America’s Future’ didn’t balance the budget until the 2060s and added $60 trillion to the national debt. Ryan’s revised plan, passed by the House in 2011, wouldn’t reach balance until the 2030s while adding $14 trillion in debt. It adds $6 trillion in debt over the next decade alone….
Although Ryan’s budgets “save” taxpayer money by drastically cutting services most Americans rely on (like weather forecasts), that “savings” is balanced by huge tax cuts for the wealthy. So not only does Ryan not reduce the deficit in the near future, as Douthat implies, the only moderates who could like Ryan’s deficit maintenance plan are very rich ones.
Courageous Alternative No. 3: “Ryan didn’t just propose a much more sweeping Medicare overhaul, he proceeded to do the hard work of persuading his fellow House Republicans to actually vote for his entitlement-reforming budget – twice,” Douthat writes. But as David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times writes this week, under Ryan’s plan “a greater share of the federal program’s costs would shift to beneficiaries. The effect on Medicaid is potentially even more troublesome.” Last year Patricia Barry of the AARP explained,
An analysis of the Ryan plan by the politically neutral Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030, typical 65-year-olds would pay 68 percent of the cost of their coverage out of pocket, compared with the 25 percent share they pay now. In dollar terms, the average 65-year-old’s costs would more than double from about $6,000 a year under current law to $12,500 by 2022, and would be higher for older people.
Ryan has argued that since his bill affects only people aged 55 and younger, today’s seniors need not concern themselves. But “’Today’s beneficiaries care deeply that Medicare will continue to provide adequate benefits for their children and grandchildren,’ says John Rother, AARP’s director of policy.” Ryan’s courageous alternative hits people when they may be too old or infirm to work, and it gets worse every year – for everyone and for individuals. The older you are, the higher your premiums. It is really a shockingly cruel plan, and one that could only be embraced by a person who has guaranteed-for-life federally-backed health insurance – like a Congressman. No need for official death panels when you can leave it to individual old people to just run out of the wherewithal to get health care. Now, that’s freedom! Good luck finding moderates to like this plan, Mr. Douthat.
Courageous Alternative No. 4: Douthat laments that “Ryan … couldn’t persuade his fellow Republicans to sign on to Social Security reform, which Ryan himself has repeatedly endorsed.” I guess not. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reminded us last week that “Ryan was … the key House backer of Social Security privatization. His bill, The Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005, was so aggressive that it was rejected by the Bush administration. Now it’s Romney’s bill to defend. In Florida.”
Okay, so Ryan’s fiscal policies are draconian. Douthat blames many of the defects in Ryan’s plans on “his fellow congressmen” who have been unwilling to cast votes for specific policies that would cause widespread hardship among their constituents. I can’t imagine why.
At the top of his column, Douthat credits Ryan with “saving the Republican party from its worst impulses.” Is that so? Let’s look at some of those worst impulses, the worst of which was probably the GOP reaction to raising the debt ceiling – a routine practice required to prevent the federal government from reneging on its obligations, obligations which of course the Congress itself had incurred. Many House Tea Party types threatened to hold the government hostage by refusing to authorize the increase. Where was Paul Ryan on that? In a June 9, 2011, report, Pat Garofalo of Think Progress noted that Ryan had “called for the U.S. to go over the cliff and miss payments to creditors; not only that, he was the highest-ranking Republican to support a default. Garofalo wrote, “Yesterday, the credit rating agency Fitch warned that even a short-term default that resulted in some missed payments – exactly what Ryan is advocating – would do real damage to the U.S. creditworthiness.” According to a recent New York Times report, “… Representative Eric Cantor … told Mr. Obama during negotiations over an attempted bipartisan ‘grand bargain’ that Mr. Ryan disliked its policy and was concerned that a deal would pave the way for Mr. Obama’s easy re-election, according to a Democrat and a Republican who were briefed on the conversation.”
Ryan’s own fingerprints are all over that debt. As Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic wrote this week, “The most substantive part of Ryan’s record as a legislative co-sponsor is as a backer of deficit-exploding tax cuts during President Bush’s first term.” Ryan also backed TARP (here he is urging Congress to pass the TARP bill), the bailouts of Bear-Stearns and A.I.G., and Bush’s auto bailout. Matt Cooper, also of The Atlantic, notes that “Ryan, despite his reputation as a fiscal hawk, has voted for some pricey items over the years that have added to the debt burden of the United States.” One of the priciest and most ill-considered: Medicare Part D. “According to a report by the then-Comptroller General David Walker, the benefit contained $8 trillion in unfunded liabilities. (Current estimates have it more in the $7 trillion range.),” Cooper writes. And, like many in both parties, Ryan voted for two unfunded wars. Some might argue that these policy decisions were among “the Republican party’s worse impulses.” Ryan was right in the thick of it – not “pushing back,” as Douthat credits him, but going along. A moderate would have to like hypocrisy to like Paul Ryan.
Finally, Douthat concludes that, “an honest assessment of Ryan’s record requires acknowledging that he’s made his own party substantially more responsible and rigorous.” Is that so? Sam Stein of the Huffington Post recounted the prologue to Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. This vignette puts the lie to Douthat entire hypothesis.
Stein wrote, “As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.” Among the 15 participants: Paul Ryan. “For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” Tommy Christopher of Mediaite called the meeting “a pact to ‘show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.’ … They conspired to block everything. If you need a smoking gun, check their record, since that meeting, of voting against things that were their own ideas just because President Obama decided to support them.”
Christopher’s summation is exactly right:
The Republicans’ conduct does reach beyond mere bad faith, especially when put into the context … [of] the calamitous challenges that the President faced on Inauguration Day, before he had managed to pull the economy away from the Bush-era cliff. Given the perilous stakes, it is stunning that any American could plot, on that day, to do anything but rescue us from the worldwide depression that threatened us.
Faced with a massive international economic crisis, one that had a negative impact on almost every American, Paul Ryan chose to sabotage the economy. He chose to render the federal government impotent so that he might enjoy some narrow political gain. No matter what your own financial status, Paul Ryan sat in a room on Inauguration Day 2009 and plotted against you and the nation. Find me a moderate who likes a saboteur, Mr. Douthat. Find me just one.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com