Paul Ryan's latest attempt to gut the federal government

Unfazed by his election defeat, the Wisconsin representative is trotting out a new draconian budget plan

By Jared Bernstein

Published March 12, 2013 7:01PM (EDT)

  (AP/J.D. Pooley)
(AP/J.D. Pooley)

This originally appeared on Jared Bernstein's blog, On the Economy.

We won’t have details until the morning, but as he describes it in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget looks a lot like the platform he and Gov. Romney ran on, and lost on, last year.

Repeal Obamacare and financial reform (Dodd-Frank), voucherize Medicare (after 10 years), cut spending on food stamps and Medicaid by shifting them over to the states. I call those block grants, where you give states a fixed amount regardless of need (so your safety net is no longer countercyclical), but Ryan calls it giving “states flexibility so they can tailor programs like Medicaid and food stamps to their people’s needs” (as long as those needs don’t increase…).

Then there’s “comprehensive tax reform” by “closing loopholes and consolidating tax rates” down to two brackets: 10 percent and 25 percent. Again, no details yet but I’ll be shocked if any actual loopholes get mentioned, much less closed (and since taxes are a bit higher now than last year, he’ll have to offset more lost revenue).

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a) a rehash of the last House budget, though even while this one cuts about the same $5 trillion in spending, it claims to balance the budget sooner (by 2023) because of spending cuts and tax increases made over the past few years, and b) it sounds a lot like what Romney and Ryan ran on: cuts to low-income programs, trickle-down tax cuts, and “here’s a voucher, good luck” on Medicare.

So why would you trot this out? Just so you can say you’ve got a budget? To stake out a starting point in negotiations with the Senate, when its — presumably very different — budget comes out shortly? To get some love from the editorial boards that long for a balanced budget?

OK … but the thing is, we had a national election on this preference set, and it lost. Moreover, if you’re really thinking about negotiating, it’s downright weird to start from a position of repealing the Affordable Care Act. It’s the law of the land, democratically legislated and validated by the Supreme Court, and a signature accomplishment by the president who, I’ll say it again, just got reelected.

So I and my CBPP colleagues will pore through the details in coming days and report what we find. But I’m afraid that as hard as we search, we won’t find an answer to the key question this budget document poses: Given that your last budget went nowhere and you just lost a national election on these ideas, why, Mr. Ryan, are you reintroducing them?

Jared Bernstein

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.

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Austerity Economics Medicaid Medicare On The Economy Paul Ryan Wisconsin