Why does anyone still take Paul Ryan seriously?

His failed V.P. bid may have made him a national figure, but his budget plan is hopelessly out of touch

Topics: On the Economy, Jared Bernstein, U.S. Economy, Paul Ryan, GOP, Budget, fiscal policy,

Why does anyone still take Paul Ryan seriously? (Credit: Reuters)
This originally appeared on Jared Bernstein's blog, On the Economy.

Zipping across the land with a nice internet connection, so a good time to reflect a bit (looking down on clouds from above broadens the perspective a bit, I find).

So, I’m doing a radio interview last night, and moderately impressed with myself for being able to speak coherently about four different budgets: Ryan’s, Senate’s, POTUS (not out yet, but we can guess at the mix), and the CPC.  Then I got asked a question which threw me a bit: why are Paul Ryan and his budget taken so seriously?

It wasn’t a snarky question.  It’s just that I’d been discussing the absolute non-reality of his proposal—how the numbers don’t begin to add up, the unrealistic budget cuts, the plethora of magic asterisks in the absence of actual proposals (the most egregious of which is: I’ll cuts taxes by $6-7 trillion over the next decade and offset the revenue losses with…um…sorry, gotta run).  And the interviewer was like, “OK…but if you’re right, why is his budget front page news such that he’s driving the debate?”

Here’s what I think is going on.  First, institutional reasons.  His party holds the majority and he’s the chair of the House Budget Committee.  That in itself makes his budget newsworthy.  Also, as a former VP candidate, he’s a national figure.

But that’s not the main reason.

I asked a wise, intently non-partisan friend who thought, and he admitted he was being generous, that one reason might be that Ryan’s introduced an important theme into the discussion: if you want really low taxes, you’ve got to give up Medicare as we know it.

But while that may be in there somewhere, it’s awfully muddled.  It certainly wasn’t Ryan’s position in the election, where he and Mitt attacked the President for Medicare cuts.  And his voucher program doesn’t start for ten years.

You Might Also Like

In other words, I think my friend is being too generous.  I’ve argued that we actually need our politicians to articulate this point: if we want X, we’re going to have to pay for X.  To my ears, Paul Ryan actually fits squarely in the problematic camp on this point, telling folks they can painlessly have it all.  But in his version, it takes the form of trickle down: if we cut taxes on job creators, get rid of the safety net, and inject health care delivery with competition, then we can have it all for a fraction of what we’re paying now.

That’s very different that telling the electorate straight up that if we want what we say we want—social insurance, a strong safety net, productive public goods including education—we’re going to need to raise more revenues to pay for it.

So what is the answer?  I think it’s twofold.

First, his views, positions, and rhetoric mesh very neatly with those of influential people, and those people have helped convince the media that Ryan is saying important things.  One group of those people are, of course, the fix-the-debt-shrink-the-government-fell-the-pain coalition.  Neither the numbers (the actual fiscal record or trajectory) nor the economics support their views, but they’ve been extremely effective in driving the debate.

The other group—and yes, there’s tons of overlap—are those who benefit most from tax reductions on the wealthy, and remember, many of these folks are professional investors.  When they invest in Congress, they expect a big bang for their big bucks.

All pretty depressing so far, I know.  But the second part of the answer is hopeful, and comes from the hoary old adage that you really can’t fool all the people all the time.

This may well be premature, but I believe Ryan’s popularity—his rep as someone who mustn’t be ignored—is fading and that this most recent budget will play a significant role in his decline.

My first clue was an interview he did with Larry Kudlow this week, and Larry’s on his side, especially on the supply-side stuff.  But the tone of the interview was revealing, I thought.  Kudlow expressed skepticism and disbelief that Ryan would be able to repeal Obamacare and thus didn’t think the budget stood up to even cursory scrutiny.  And Ryan basically agreed!  He spoke of his budget as symbolic and visionary, or some such stuff—I don’t remember the word salad.  But he kind of just said he’s holding up a picture of one way of looking at things, a way that he and his caucus think makes sense.

But I think they’re increasingly isolated in this regard—certainly, the election outcome suggests that to be the case—and eventually, this will move the media away from him, especially as the fiscal numbers continue to move down to more normal levels.  I could easily be wrong, of course, but I think that at the end of the day—and it’s getting toward dusk—enough people will no longer want to look at that picture he’s holding up, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t have any other ones to show us.

Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May 2011 as a Senior Fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Follow his work via Twitter at @econjared and @centeronbudget.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>