While we’ve heard a lot about Paul Ryan’s economic views over the past few days, the fundamental take away message is that his plan is a con. Ryan’s proposals are just another variation on what we get from every Republican these days: cut taxes on the ultra-wealthy while increasing taxes on the middle class and increasing the deficit to pay for this. David Stockton calls this Paul Ryans Fairy-Tale Budget:
The Ryan Plan boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — i.e. the superwealthy — to 25 percent and paying for it with an as-yet-undisclosed plan to broaden the tax base. Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like, not to mention low rates on capital gains and dividends. The crony capitalists of K Street already own more than enough Republican votes to stop that train before it leaves the station.
In short, Mr. Ryan’s plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. And it couldn’t pass even if Republicans were to take the presidency and both houses of Congress. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation’s fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity — just empty sermons.
I previously noted how James Fallows has explained that Ryan’s economic proposals are not serious. The manner in which Ryan sought stimulus funds while attaching the program does not help Ryan’s credibility. It does provide another example of the typical conservative hypocrisy of attacking government programs for political benefit regardless of their value.
The biggest government program which Ryan is attacking is Medicare, proposing changes which would end the program as we know it. Some who have not paid close attention to his plan are under the misconception that Ryan is being brave by fighting such a huge entitlement program. As Ezra Klein points out, Ryan’s plan does not save any more money than Obama’s plans. Ryan even supports the same alleged cuts to Medicare which Obama has made–such as cuts to subsidies to insurance companies as opposed to cuts in services. Other Medicare cuts come from decreased payment to hospitals to compensate for caring for the uninsured as there will be far fewer people without insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Obama has actually increased services to Medicare beneficiaries by having Medicare provide many preventative services at no charge and by phasing out the donut hole on prescription drugs.
Republicans have two basic ideas to save money on Medicare–privatize the system and increase out-of-pocket costs among beneficiaries. Privatization does not work. We found with Medicare Advantage plans that it costs between 12 and 20 percent more to care for patients in private plans compared to the government plan. That really shouldn’t be all that surprising. Private plans have added expenses for things such as marketing, and they must make a profit.
Making Medicare patients pay more out of pocket is not a good idea either. The result is that patients avoid preventative studies and avoid routine treatment for chronic diseases, leading to higher costs in the long run. However, even if this was a good idea. there is no reason to privatize the system. The current Medicare system is more cost effective than private insurance companies Changes in payment policies could be made for the government Medicare program. While not a good idea, Medicare payments could be restructured to have higher copays and deductibles and Republicans want without giving up the greater efficiency of Medicare compared to private insurance companies. There is just no reason fiscal reason to dismantle Medicare as the Republicans would like to do.
While Republican ideologues are thrilled by the choice of Ryan, often preferring ideological purity over electability, Republican pros are terrified, as described in this story from Politico. Normally I’d shy away from a story entirely based upon politicians speaking off the record, but it does make sense that Republican pros who see the choice of Ryan as a disaster for the party would give the ticket their support in public. Along the same lines Howard Kurtz asks, Is Paul Ryan a Ticking Time Bomb as Mitt Romney’s Running Mate?
Ryan may have energized the right—Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch appear ecstatic about his elevation—but the congressman has a long paper trail that could alienate moderate swing voters. If Newt Gingrich could assail Ryan’s Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering,” little wonder that the Obama team is salivating over the prospect of hanging the Ryan record around Romney’s neck.
Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, adopted by the House, could wind up costing future retirees $6,000 a year as medical costs outpace the fixed benefits, according to independent studies. Conservatives are pushing back against this assessment, with National Review publishing several pieces Monday on the Democrats’ “Mediscare” tactics.
But the details—that Ryan has changed his original plan, that seniors would have a choice of plans and some would be subsidized by the government—are complicated. Kind of like the way that Obamacare is difficult to explain. And if the voucher plan didn’t cost elderly recipients a dime, how much money would it save?
Ryan’s response is that his plan is preferable to the Democratic approach of doing nothing (though how does that square with the charge he and Romney make that the president wants to cut $700 billion from Medicare?).
Romney insists the duo is running on his proposals, not his VP nominee’s. On Monday, he declined to discuss the differences between his Medicare plan and Ryan’s, saying, “We haven’t gone through piece by piece.” But that won’t wash. Even Fred Barnes, while praising the choice in The Weekly Standard, says: “Now Romney must actively promote and defend the Ryan plan. As of today, it’s the Romney plan.”
Then there is Ryan’s support for a “personhood” bill that would declare life begins at conception. Not a great help to a presidential candidate who wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood.
Ryan also has pushed to privatize Social Security, which George W. Bush, despite the congressman’s help, couldn’t even get to a vote. Think that will play well in Florida?
And as the Times noted, Ryan has voted against requiring more stringent background checks for buyers at gun shows, and against federal funding for NPR.
The best case scenario is that the Romney/Ryan Ticket To Destroy Medicare winds up nationalizing the race, taking many Republicans in Congress down with them as people really think about how much harm Republicans would do to the country. With Congress tying an all time low approval rating of 10 percent, it might not take much to get voters to throw out the Republican House majority they voted in two years ago.