Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on Greta Van Susteren's "On The Record" Thursday night to give his side of the story on the ongoing knock-down drag-out budget debate. Ryan, whose re-polished budget plan passed the House but was predictably halted by the Democratic-controlled Senate, said that President Barack Obama's "charm offensive" was "helpful." Citing the delays in the White House presenting its budget, however, Ryan averred, "The question is, is it real and will it last? If it is real and if it does last, then I think we've got a chance of getting a down payment on the problem fixed."
Meanwhile, it's knives out for Obamacare:
RYAN: You know, the dirty little secret about this, Greta, "Obamacare" changes Medicare as we know it. "Obamacare" is the law that puts a board of 15 bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare that leads to denied access to current seniors.
What we say -- get rid of this board, make sure that all the savings from Medicare goes to Medicare solvency, not to pay for another program by raiding it. And oh, by the way, people who are on Medicare, they organize their lives around this program. And before a debt crisis, the moment we're in right now, we can put reforms in that guarantee the program doesn't change for those who are in and near retirement, but we must reform it for our generation and the younger people so that we can keep that promise.
Ryan's long had it out for this board, more properly known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and has only a slightly less paranoiac take on it than many of his colleagues, who have referred to it as the "death panel." But Ryan's presentation of what the IPAB does nevertheless stretches the truth.
As the Kaiser Family Foundation noted back in 2010, "The Board is prohibited from submitting proposals that would ration care, increase taxes, change Medicare benefits or eligibility, increase beneficiary premiums and cost-sharing requirements, or reduce low-income subsidies under Part D. Prior to 2019, the Board is also prohibited from recommending changes in payments to providers and suppliers that are scheduled to receive a reduction in their payment updates in excess of a reduction due to productivity adjustments, as specified in the health reform law."
Ryan is of course still touting his plan to transform Medicare -- at least for everyone currently aged 55 and younger -- into a voucher system, and he's now gone all in on promises to balance the budget. "We owe the country a balanced budget," he said. "It's a reasonable plan. It grows the economy. Balancing the budget is not just a statistical exercise, it's the necessary means to a healthier economy, creates more jobs, helps people keep more of their own hard-earned money. And it's a big contrast to the other budgets that are passing."
Of course, the virtues of a balanced budget are oft-overhyped, but the GOP has nevertheless found a point of contrast with Obama, who has explicitly stated that balancing the budget -- and extracting capital from the economy -- in the short term is not a priority for him during the economic recovery. Ryan and his colleagues, however, point to an internal party poll that indicates this is a winning political message. Per Politico:
The poll showed that 45 percent of Democratic voters think “balancing … the federal budget would significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.” A sky-high 61 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans agree.
But the data Republicans culled are much more granular than that.
Sixty-four percent of voters in Democratic-held districts — dubbed offensive districts by the NRCC — think balancing the budget creates a massive number of jobs. Swing district voters overwhelmingly agreed — to the tune of 62 percent. Fifty-seven percent of voters in Democratic districts represented by Republicans agree, as well.
"Now if this were true," notes Dave Weigel, "recent history would have been one of constant recessions."
The wild deficits of the 1980s wouldn't have come during a period of massive economic growth. The job growth and deficits of the middle Bush II years, when unemployment fell to around 5 percent, wouldn't make any sense. And it wouldn't have made any sense, in 2001, when Republican economists argued that the surplus needed to be wiped out to pay for more tax cuts—and unbalancing the budget—in the interest of economic stimulus.
One of the people making that argument for stimulus through massive tax cuts? Paul Ryan. Meanwhile, there is an observable 60-year trend that indicates that low unemployment is a driver of deficit reduction, so the argument that a balanced budget leads to jobs -- which perhaps sounds pleasing to the public -- is nevertheless a strategy that mistakes the horse for the cart.
Toward the end of the interview, Van Susteren asked Ryan whether he was considering mounting a presidential campaign in 2016.
RYAN: I'm going to take a look at this seriously later. But the way I look at this is, I should not be clouding my judgment in doing my job right now. I'm the head of the Budget Committee. I represent Wisconsin's 1st district, and I should not be putting into my mind, you know, some kind of political consideration three- and-a-half years down from now because I think that will cloud my judgment. What I need to do is look at the moment we have right now. We're on the cusp of a debt crisis. We have a fiscal problem. We have an economic problem. I need to focus on that and I need to make sure that I make the right decisions for the right reasons on dealing with this issue. Then when we've dealt with that, then I'm going to give serious consideration to these other things.
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