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Romney's Creed: Ryan's

First the good news: We don't have to worry this year about the intellectual qualifications of the GOP vice-presidential candidate -- or about the judgment of a presidential candidate who would choose an unqualified running mate. Of course, it was always highly unlikely that Mitt Romney was going to repeat that particular mistake.Now the bad news: By putting Paul Ryan on the ticket, Romney has underlined his prior commitment to Ryan's budget plan, which would gut Medicaid, transform Medicare into a voucher program, and reduce all federal discretionary spending -- including defense spending -- to 3.5 percent of GDP. We now spend more than 4 percent of GDP on the Department of Defense alone, and both Romney and Ryan have pledged to protect the military from further cuts. That would leave the federal government with less than nothing to spend on everything else except for entitlements: roads and bridges, education, food safety, you name it.Ryan and his defenders say we have no choice. We must either behave as adults and scale back basic public programs or risk losing them altogether. They say this because they know most Americans would reject Ryan's plan if it were presented as a choice -- the choice between dismantling the federal government and raising taxes on the rich and upper middle class, whose effective tax rates are now at their lowest level in decades.Ryan has always been in favor of scrapping or privatizing federal programs for reasons that have little to do with fiscal necessity. He was, for example, behind a 2005 plan to privatize Social Security, which went nowhere. He was also in favor of the Bush administration's tax cuts and wars, which did as much as anything else to cause our current fiscal problems. Ryan believes, as a matter of principle, that the federal government has no business taking care of the old, the sick, and the destitute. Each state, not the United States, can deal with the needs of such people. Or, better, churches and voluntary associations can take care of them. (Food stamps? Are there no church-basement homeless shelters, no soup kitchens?). Better still, those in need can learn to take care of themselves, as the good Lord intended, because no one is free who isn't self-sufficient. On that point, at least, the divine Author of our liberties is in complete agreement with Ayn Rand.Ryan has carefully distanced himself from Rand, a hero of his youth. He's never been an objectivist, he now insists. How could he be? He's a Catholic. He just likes her novels for the way they dramatize the evil of "collectivism," Ryan's pejorative term for the commonweal. Still, the question remains: Would someone who knew nothing about Ryan but had studied his budget be more likely to think it had been inspired by the Sermon on the Mount or Atlas Shrugged? As I wrote here a few months ago:

I have no doubt Ryan goes to Mass every week, loves his wife and children, and is truly contrite about his recent enthusiasm for the works of Ayn Rand.The problem isnt Ryans personal piety; its his policy priorities. Make that priority. For all his grim talk about our national-debt emergency, Ryans new budget, like his old budget, is really organized around the single imperative of reducing taxes, especially for the rich. It is very specific about this: it would bring down the top personal income-tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and reduce corporate taxes to the same rate. True, it promises to offset the effect of these lower rates by closing loopholes, but these loopholes are left unspecified (as they almost always are). Ryan has specifically promised not to close one of the most egregious loopholes, the one that allows income on capital to be taxed at 15 percent. To make up for the revenue lost because of the tax cuts, Congress would have to find $700 billion worth of other loopholes to close. But dont worry: Ryan and the rest of the GOP congressional caucus will figure that out later. If the national debt is really the looming catastrophe Ryan says it is a catastrophe in which the poor would be hit the first and the worst, as Ryan put it in his recent speech at Georgetown then you might expect hed at least be willing to consider raising tax rates, which are as low as theyve been in fifty years. You would certainly not expect him to lower them still further. But it is possible that Ryan still believes, against all the available evidence, that cutting taxes will automatically lead to economic growth, which will in turn help bring down the deficit and benefit the poor. In which case he is not a Randian (Rand hated all superstition) but a practitioner of voodoo, bent on reanimating our inert economy by bleeding the federal government.Even if Ryans budget didnt hurt the poor indeed, even if it somehow helped them this would be no more than a happy accident. The point is not, and never has been, to help the poor. The point is to shrink the government and lower taxes. If this helps the poor, so much the better; if it doesnt, sauve qui peut.


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@Jeff Landry (8/15, 3:08 pm) Thanks for the reply. I'm glad we agree; and you didn't (to my knowledge) say that pointing out the fact that Ryan's numbers don't add up *is* histrionic.Given that much of Ryan's political reputation is built on his budgetary prowess, it's noteworthy to establish as an agreed fact that his numbers don't add up.As a vice-presidential candidate, Ryan will now be adopting the platform and plans of Mitt Romney. Romney apparently has a "plan" to balance the budget, but according to Ryan, hasn't "run the numbers yet". of it what you will.

"So saying that he believes, as a matter of principle (not policy), that the federal (as opposed to state) government has no business taking care of the old, the sick, and the destitute is not exactly false and is therefore nothing like saying that prochoice politicians are murderers."By "histrionic" I mean portraying/distorting Ryan's actual positions in ways that are (a) unfair and (b) demonstrably false. Ergo, your statement, "If you asked Paul Ryan whether the federal government (mark the federal) should ever have created Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the first place, I think its pretty clear he would say No." Not only is this demonstrably false on both Ryan's own record & proposals, as well as his own statements, it is patently unfair when you look at what he has actually proposed. Indeed he said the other night that he honors the commitments that have been made in the social compact, and he is motivated to try to preserve those commitments by making changes that would impact younger citizens. Fortunately there are progressives who bother to take Ryan at his word and that what he has proposed isn't as extreme as you suggest. Cue Matt Yglesias: "Ryan's basic view is that all he's trying to do is ensure that the federal government's spending is brought in line with historic norms about the level of taxation. He's a conservative, to be sure, and this agenda is clearly animated by a belief that high taxes are bad. But far from a radical effort to scale back the welfare state, it's a sensible effort to preserve the status quo.", you seem to equate a view of federalism with the position that "its really up to state and local government, together with civil society, to take care of the poor and the elderly." But if that is the case, then (again) the same must be said of President Obama, who's own signature proposals in the areas of education, health care, and welfare rely increasingly on devolution to, and experimentation on, the state level. To say I favor a federal policy that incentivizes state experimentation on, say, education policy is, in principle and in policy, NOT the same as saying "I am against federal education policy."So, a statement like "Ryan, as a matter of principle, opposes a federal safety net", just like the statement "pro-choice politicians are murderers", obscures nuance, context, and judgment, not to mention ignores Ryan's own statements, record and proposals, all the while absolving the similar positions of your own side from the faults you would find in Ryan. That, in essence, is what I have found troubling about your portrayal of Ryan.

A CNN commentator said Ryan had insight into Catholic voters...does he really?

Apples and oranges, Jeff, as usual. But I'm not going to waste time debating Obama's dubious education policies here. To your first point: Yes, Ryan is in favor of honoring "the commitments that have been made in the social compact," or at least some of them. And that's to his credit. But that is not incompatible with believing that those commitments should not have been made in the first place. Using exactly the same rhetoric Ryan uses, appealing to exactly the same principles, another generation of conservative opposed the creation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The GOP only accepted these programs once they were fait accompli. No one who promised to scrap these programs now could win a national election, and Ryan knows that. So there is Ryan's political philosophy on the one hand and his policies on the other -- the latter being an imperfect translation of the former -- and I think you and I would agree that what ought to be most important to voters is the policy. Still, the philosophy is important in its way: the policies will change when the circumstances change, but the underlying principles will stay the same. For what it's worth, I do not believe Ryan's political philosophy is stupid or dishonorable; I do not believe it proves he's a bad person. I do believe it's radical (not always a bad thing, that) and dangerous. This isn't about "bothering" to take Ryan at his word (whatever that means), but about which of Ryan's words to pay the most attention to -- what he says on the stump or what he's on record saying to fellow lawmakers and rightwing backers. Either way, you won't find Ryan promising to preserve the status quo when it comes to the tax code or to Medicaid or to food stamps. His whole point is that the status quo is unsustainable and un-American, punishing success, encouraging dependency, and driving the country into bankruptcy.In any case, there's no point in filling up our comboxes with quotes from liberals who have something nice to say about Ryan. I know where to find Yglesias, just like you know where to find Krugman.

I'm not exactly sure what this point is supposed to add: "Using exactly the same rhetoric Ryan uses, appealing to exactly the same principles, another generation of conservative opposed the creation of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." Am I supposed to recoil against Ryan because you suggest (without nary an actual quote, and contrary to several of Ryan's actual statements) that he metaphysically agrees with long-dead conservatives about the size of the federal government?Be that as it may, what I find really remarkable about your comment is that, even assuming for argument's sake that Ryan does have some commitment to a pre-1932 federal government, then on the basis of his actual statements, record and proposals, he has shown a remarkable willingness to deviate from that commitment in an effort to preserve, and in some cases, expand the programs you would suggest he is fundamentally opposed to. Far from being an extreme right-winger, he's downright liberal! Usually when Republicans show such willingness to deviate from their principles to support liberal programs they're lauded (even by such as Krugman) rather than being offered up for castigation.

(Speaking of histrionics, let us not forget that before Ayn Rand was a philosopher-economist she wrote screenplays for Cecil B. deMille.)

Dear Crystal Watson, Not to mention the just-born, and their struggling parents. The notion that Medicaid can be handed off to the States is simply laughable. A number of States are on the brink of bankruptcy themselves at the moment, and Medicaid is paid for mainly by the federal government. So, unless there is a transfer of federal funds (call it Revenue Sharing) to the States, Medicaid would be dead, and the poor left to fend for themselves. Of course, their medical needs would not go away, so we would have to pay for them anyhow, just not in any rational way. And then there would be the associated costs: law enforcement, prison, hospitals instead of clinics, etc. etc. One thing that seems to be left out of many discussions: Eventually, the economy will improve, the stock market will improve, and governments will start collecting more taxes (even if we don't do something sensible about taxation in the meantime). That won't be enough to get us out of our current fix. But, things WILL get better, sometime.

As we stroll down memory lane, let's be careful to see things for what they are. The average unemployment rate over a president's term can be highly misleading. For example, a president, let's call him President R, who enters office when the unemployment rate is 10% and works it down to 5% can have an average unemployment rate of 7.5%. Similarly, a president, let's call him President O, who enters office when the unemployment rate is 5% and leaves it at 10% can also have an average unemployment rate of 7.5%. But who here wouldn't much prefer the economic record of President R over that of President O?When Reagan entered office the rate was about 7.5% and trending up. It got up over 10% before his tax rate cuts became fully effective, in 1984. By the time he left office, the rate was 5.5% and trending down. Thank you, Mr. President.

Sorry Mark, you can't separate the effects of the tax cut from the effects of the deficit. Also, if they worked for Reagan, why didn't they work for GW? You are claiming that a principle is in operation here. Finally, didn't Reagan also raise taxes at some point?

My problem with the non-Keynesians is that they seem to think that some principles always work and in every set of circumstances. But economics is a functional system -- it has parts which change over time and so relationships which also vary, and what is good policy in one set of circumstances will not necessarily be good policy in another set.Consider the supply-sider principle that cutting taxes always results in increased investment and, therefore, more jobs. This is simply false. In our present circumstances the big capitalists have been rolling in dough, but, apparently because of the generally sluggish circumstances, they have *not* been investing it, except some of it in foreign countries. (This, of course, makes the notion of lowering their taxes laughable as a remedy for the recession.)

Unagidon--You've not taken issue directly with anything in my previous comment. Before moving on to where we disagree, is it fair to say that you agree my previous comment is essentially accurate (though you draw from it different conclusions than I do)? In the interest of finding some common ground (it seems we've gone at it a bit lately), it would be nice if we can at least agree on the unemployment rate over Reagan's presidency, and the importance of considering the beginning and ending rate, rather than simply the average. If we can't agree on that, I'm not sure we can agree on anything that follows from it.

Sorry for entering this discussion late. My problems with Obama are:1. He wants everyone to believe that another 4 years of the same policies will produce different results.2. The cost of ObamaCare has increase dramatically and had this underestimate (but higher cost) been known, the Democrats would not have passed the legislation. 3. There are so many cost issues with ObamaCare that have not been addressed, it is laughable to assume this law will not produce another fiscal disaster for us.4. He has not addressed the social security cost problem or did he accept any of his bi-partisan commission recommendations. He offers no solution. After all, that problem is something beyond his second term, and tackling it now will impact his re-election. 5. Obama offers no solution to the unemployment problem, but the same old failed policies. He thinks taxing the rich will enable him to solve the major problems confronting us. This is non-sense. The extra revenue is a drop in the bucket. It is all ideology and smoke.Yes, Romney-Ryan has not offered enough details on their solutions to the above, but at least they have a plan...which is a start. If we don't get a clear picture of Romney versus Obama policies in the Presidential debates, that most people can understand, we will be left with the lesser of two evils. At this point, Obama is holding the weaker hand.

@Michael J. Barberi (8/16, 8:13 pm) Thanks for entering!1. Not only does Pres. Obama have some new policies, but it's worth noting that many of his proposals have been blocked, particularly in the past 2 years. One example is the American Jobs Act he proposed a year ago. It was made up entirely of policies that (at least some) Republicans had supported and voted for in the past. It would have created at least 1 million jobs.2. What's your evidence for this assertion? (From what Romney and Ryan have said this week, it seems as if the savings associated with Obamacare keep growing.)3. Again, what do you have in mind here? Why is it "laughable to assume this law will not produce another fiscal disaster for us"? 4. Social Security has relatively minor and distant financing problems. Pres. Obama has repeatedly (and to the dismay of many in his party) sought a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction. *He formed the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission when Congress refused to appoint a deficit reduction commission. *The Commission was unable to agree on a proposal---in part because of the opposition of Cong. Ryan and other House Republicans on the commission to any proposal that included any tax hikes. *As detailed in David Corn's "Showdown" (and elsewhere), Pres. Obama did not publicly embrace the recommendations of the commission's co-chairs because he feared that such an endorsement would polarize the issue. *Pres. Obama and Speaker Boehner reached tentative agreement last summer on a $4 billion deficit reduction deal that was scuttled by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and other House Republican leaders who opposed the deal because it included some modest tax hikes.5. See (for example): American Jobs Act---a proposal that is still on the table, that does not rely on "taxing the rich", that is made up of policies that have enjoyed bipartisan support (prior to the last 4 years).The major issue with the proposals of Romney-Ryan is not that they have not "offered enough details on their solutions to the above" (though they haven't). It's that the numbers they've provided don't add up. They don't add up on Medicare. They don't add up on deficit reduction. They don't add up on tax policy.

@ Luke,Below are my concerns about ObamaCare, as well as the opinions of many experts.1. The "doc fix" is part of our nation's healthcare cost problem and it has not been resolved yet; it was simply postponed. Most importantly, it was not part of the CBO's cost/savings estimates for ObamaCare which was replacing the so-called old healthcare system. This amounts to a staggering $276 Billion over 10 years. 2. The CBO report says ObamaCare will reduce the deficit. In other words by new reimbursement schemas and taxes and fees (e.g., cuts in Medicare provider fees and increased taxes on dividends). This was estimated to cover the higher costs for insuring the uninsured. However, the CBO report assumes that the reduced payment rates to Medicare providers will have no effect on Medicare beneficaries or Medicare provider services. This is simply absurd. The projected 2019 Medicare payment rates (to providers) are estimated to be LESS than the payment rates in 2013!!! Does anyone really believe this will have 'no effect' on provider services or participation, or that access to care for Medicare beneficaries will not be impacted? Does anyone with a brain believe that these Medicare cuts will really work?3. There are 11 million uninsured that are eligble for Medicaid but are not enrolled. Starting in 2014, these individuals will automatically get covered but the cost for these individuals will not be covered by the special 100% subsidies that the government will offer for "expanding Medicaid". These 11 million will be subsidized at the current 50/50 cost sharing ratio. Given the dire financial condition of most states today, this will not be possible unless state revenues are increasing state taxes...something that state governors, legislators and citizens will consider unworkable.4. A big part of ObamaCare savings will come from new unproven cost management programs. Some of these programs are "capping payments on a treatment basis". Capping fees has always resulted in provider manipulation especially if the fees are consider unreasonable (significantly less than a provider's cost). Other methods include what amounts to rationing of care based on cost/benefit analysis. Can you envision what this would be like with aggressive cancer treatments? I am all for reforming healthcare. However, I am not convinced that ObamaCare is the answer.Luke, you claim that the Romney-Ryan proposals don't add up on Medicare, deficit reduction or tax policy. This is astounding. No expert has yet made this claim because there are simply no details offered yet. Ryan's House proposal is not Romney's plan. They may have many things in common, but we have yet to know the full details of Romney's plan. Hence, we need a clear picture of Obama versus Romney proposals on the economy, tax policy, unemployment-employment, deficit reduction, etc. Hopefully, this will become clearer as we move into the Presidential debates and beyond to election day. Your claim that Obama offered the American Jobs Act was more of the same policies that he offered since he took office. You are simply defending Obama by "playing the blame game". When is Obama going to take responsibility for his policies and lack of results? He had 2 years in control of Congress and all of his policies have failed. First, he blamed Bush, then Congress and the Republicans. He should take a page out of the centrist-strategy of a great President....Bill Clinton. When faced with the mid-term elections of Congress, in favor of Republicans, he compromised and got many things accomplished. Obama is too far left of Clinton and has never entertained compromise. This was in contradiction to his claim during the Presidential elections that he was going to bring both parties together. He was going to end the bitterness and deplorable character of Washington. He was going to be the President of "hope and change". What we got was a Washington that has grown worse and policies that have not worked.

@Michael J. Barberi (8/17, 6:14 pm) Thanks for your detailed response.We agree that Obamacare is imperfect. That said, it does more to approach universal access to health care coverage, to control health care costs, and to reduce federal deficits than any other health care legislation of which I'm aware. (By contrast, when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, they passed Medicare Part D with no concern for what it would do to federal deficits, and included "Medicare Advantage" which costs 17% more than traditional Medicare.)"...we have yet to know the full details of Romney's plan." So true. In fact, Romney's plans across the board are remarkably vague compared with recent presidential candidates from both parties. At times Romney has stated that he's done that on purpose...because if he provides specifics, his opponents will criticize them. (Which doesn't give one much reason to hope that "this will become clearer as we move (forward)".)

@Luke,Imperfect is a mild word to describe Obama. We are all imperfect but Obama is too far left and stubborn for my sense of a President who campaigned on solidarity in a spirit of bi-partisan change. Obama did approach universal access to health care coverage etc, at the expense of a cost and fiscal time bomb. He gave the ball to Reid and Pelosi and they pushed through this legislation behind closed doors. You fail to address the fact that after almost 4 years our nation's unemployment is over 8%, the deficit is the largest in history and the only answer he offers is more spending, tax the rich and expand entitlement programs. He can't get any legislation passed Congress because he does not know or want to compromise. The only thing we hear is that the rich must pay their fair share. What does that mean? Taxing the rich is not the answer. The extra revenue taxing the rich will get you is a drop in the bucket compared to what it will take to resolve our problems. Granted, Romney needs to put details on his plan, at least enough for people to get a sense of comparison with Obama's failed policies. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that another 4 years of the same policies is the answer. It would be a disaster. At the moment, the business community, Wall Street, as well as most Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. If so, we need a change. You may feel comfortable that without more details on strategy, Romney is a risk. However, whatever details emerge will be about as much as any political candidate usually offers. Remember that most Americans voted for Obama not based on any detail plan but on a vision and campaign promises that he never kept. Had Obama demonstrated that he was clearly reaching out across the political divide and compromising, I would give him more respect. He did not lead, set the tone for bi-partisan negotiations, but simply allowed Reid and Pelosi to have their way. This resulted in a much more bitter Washington than we had in the past. During the past 2 years, he failed to get any meaningful legislation passed (other than for emergency issues) and continued to demonstrate intransigence and not skillful and centrist political strategy like Bill Clinton had done.As for the scope and cost of Medicare part D, that is small potatoes compared to a comprehensive and universal health care plan and system overhaul. At this point, I can't bring myself to vote for Obama.

@Michael J. Barberi (8/18, 2:48 pm) Thanks for your response.I think you weaken your case by saying that Democrats "pushed through this legislation behind closed doors" when in fact, as many remember and anyone can look up, the Affordable Care Act was passed into law after nearly a year of public debate and amendment in both houses of Congress, having been passed through five committees. The main instance of "closed doors" in the entire process was the "Gang of Six" Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who met for months in an ultimately futile effort at bipartisan agreement. It was only some months after the ACA had been passed that it became widely known that Congressional Republicans had decided on a strategy of obstruction regardless of what Pres. Obama proposed (on health care, or on any other issue).It may be worth noting here that Pres. Clinton will speak at the Democratic National Convention and is expected to do there what he has done repeatedly over the past 3+ years---strongly endorse and support the leadership of Pres. Obama.At this point, given that Romney has revealed far fewer details than recent presidential candidates of both parties, I think it's a bold assumption on your part to say that "whatever details emerge will be about as much as any political candidate usually offers".We agree that Medicare Part D is "small potatoes" compared with the Affordable Care Act. Despite that, it adds to federal deficits while the ACA reduces them (mildly in the first decade, significantly in the 2nd decade).I don't think Barack Obama and George W. Bush are particularly divisive politicians. I think that the political parties are, for a variety of reasons, more clearly divided than they were in the late 20th century. Given that situation, I think it's a mistake to blame Obama (or Bush) for being "divisive" and failing to demonstrate "skillful and centrist political strategy".

@Luke,When the ACA was passed by both houses of Congress, these houses had Democratic majorities. In fact, the ACA passed the Senate on the old rule of 50, not 60. This was a time of bitter debate along with accusations of ram-roding the legislation through. If you are implying that the year of public debate and amendments demonstrated that both parties were engaged in legitimate and bi-partisan negotiations, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. The fact that Bill Clinton will address the Democratic Convention is nothing more than political theater. Most political analyst know that there is no love loss between Bill Clinton and Obama. As for my "bold statement", I speak the truth. I do expect that Romney will provide more details of his plan for America and that this will be the topic in the Presidential Debates. Obama cannot defend "his record", so he will try to demonize Romney's plan. That is his strategy to date. As far as the issue of the ACA reducing deficits, you have a lot to learn about CBO estimates and assumptions, not to mention healthcare. To date, the CBO has already increased the cost estimate of ObamaCare and the issues I raised in my previous blog comment is what many consultants agree with. I was a senior partner in a worldwide healthcare consulting firm and senior vice president of a major healthcare organization. Based on my 30 yeas of experience, the CBO overestimated savings and underestimated the costs of ObamaCare. The few changes that have been implemented to date has increased insurance costs, not decreased them. You can't increase the dependent age to 26 for coverage and drop pre-existing conditions and expect costs to decrease. Don't get me wrong, these are great changes that I support. However, they increase costs albeit a necessary cost.The bottom line is that we are not better off now than we were 4 years ago. During Obama's first term, unemployment skyrocketed to 10+%, then decreased to 8.3% and the economy is growing at an anemic rate. If you can tell me what will turn things around in the next 4 years, based on Obama's plan, I am all ears. There are many reasons for divisiveness, but this President has done nothing to bring both parties any stretch of the truth. Much of it was political theater with the appearance of bridging differences, but in the end there was no legitimate compromising. There is much blame to be shared on both sides of the political divide, but if Obama wins the election, I see more of the same. This is unacceptable to me. I would rather try something different and reasonable. Let's hope we are both comfortable with our choices in November. If not, it will be a choice between the lesser of two evils.